Father Larry Gosselin’s criticism of a new film playing at the Riviera Theater may have had the opposite effect than he intended. He sent a letter Tuesday expressing his “grave concern and disappointment” over the showing of Hail Satan?, a documentary that follows members of the Satanic Temple as they advocate for religious freedom in their home state of Arkansas. Since then, ticket sales appear to have gone up. “It’s doing really well,” said Roger Durling, director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which operates the theater. “We have two weekend showings scheduled.”
In his letter addressed to Durling, Gosselin, a Franciscan friar assigned to Old Mission Santa Barbara, says the film could put the city in “grave danger.” “I strongly request of you, on behalf of our community, that you do not support, bring, nor allow this film into our community to view,” he wrote.
“Without knowing this film personally,” he continues, “I feel I can safely and assuredly say that the foundational aspects of this movie, and all that it represents, has its source in the powers of darkness. From my standpoint, as a religious leader, I have firsthand experience in dealing with those involved and influenced by Satanic worship. I can assure you, that unless one has seen the effects that this involvement does bring onto those, who even innocently dabble with “powers of darkness,” one has no idea what destructive outcomes can, and will, ensue with the ignorance of what may be seen initially to be enticing and innocent, at first sight, the effects are not innocent but gravely harmful.”
In response, Durling told the Independent that Gosselin has an inaccurate understanding of the film. “If you read anything about the movie, it’s not about Satanism,” Durling said. “It’s about the line between church and state. It’s a social justice piece.” Durling suspected the film’s title might have been enough to worry Gosselin. “This is a case of judging a book by its cover,” he said.
On Facebook, Durling begged others to not make the same mistake: “Don’t miss out on seeing one of the best documentaries of the year because of its title,” he wrote. “This light-footed movie challenges our preconceived notions of its subject with a smart, witty, and at times hysterical dispatch from the front lines of the fight for social justice. You might think you may be watching a Christopher Guest mockumentary.”