Director of new HBO docuseries on weight loss church wants to help people get out

Nashville Tennessean/September 30, 2021

By Liam Adams

Marina Zenovich is not religious, yet she directed a new HBO Max docuseries about a religiously complex and controversial faith community in Brentwood.

“Who am I to step into this world and judge these people? But then we spoke to so many people who talked about how they were traumatized,” Zenovich said about making The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin, which airs Thursday.

The docuseries is about Remnant Fellowship church and its founder Gwen Shamblin Lara, the controversial author of the book “The Weigh Down Diet” who died in May in a plane crash at Percy Priest Lake.

Zenovich said the series is for those who attended Remnant and who were hurt by their experience.

Ross Dinerstein, the film’s producer and founder of Campfire Studios, says the story is for a broader audience.

Both agree the documentary exists to call out the corruption and abuse they uncovered. “This is not what religion is supposed to be. This is about power and control. It’s wrong and they need to be called out,” Zenovich said.

On Wednesday, Remnant church said its ministry is "based on love, care, mercy and kindness."

“Remnant Fellowship categorically denies the absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in the HBO documentary,” the church told The Tennessean in an email. "Despite rumors, we do not body shame anyone, as we know that God created all of us uniquely with all kinds of different sizes, shapes, and weights."

The documentary explores the life of Lara, who became well-known for her “faith-based” weight loss teachings, and her impact on Remnant members. Lara founded Remnant Fellowship in 1999 in Brentwood, and the church says it has another 150 congregations across the world.

Lara was at the center of multiple controversies, including insensitive comments about thin Jews and her support for two Remnant congregants convicted of murdering their son.

The HBO Max docuseries explores the church’s alleged effort to control most aspects of congregants’ lives, including what they eat, the medication they receive, and the people they marry.
The documentary started when investigative journalist Nile Cappello approached Dinerstein with the idea. Dinerstein, who attended Vanderbilt University, was immediately intrigued. Dinerstein then asked Zenovich if she wanted to direct it.

“This is really about helping people get out,” Zenovich said, adding she hopes Remnant members watch the documentary and it causes them to think differently about their experience there.

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