The tense genesis of Salto’s series of Order of the Solar Temple massacres

It is a mystery that has been going on for almost thirty years. The massacres of the Order of the Solar Temple sect, which took place between 1994 and 1997, in France, Switzerland and Canada, claimed 74 lives. If the term “collective suicides” is systematically included in this case, the fact remains that many identified victims were killed.

Why? The question always arises afterwards The sect, a documentary mini-series in four episodes posted online this Friday on Salto. “The interest in this type of story is to try to understand how we got there. We focus on the narrative of the influence of gurus on followers to show the mechanisms at work,” explained director Bruno Joucla in 20 minutes.

This is the first time that the latter shakes the shoulders of the writing series. The project was entrusted to him by Matthieu Belghiti of What’s Up Films, who produced suspicions for Canal+ in 2004 and The Fourth Trial for Netflix in 2020, two emblematic documentary series in the buoyant genre that is real crime.

Double competition

The subject specifically spoke to the producer. “When I was young, I went on vacation to Vercors, [où treize adultes et trois enfants ont été immolés en 1995], it was a shock to me as it was to everyone in society at the time. A person close to me is also facing a sectarian affair,” he said. “And then there is not much news suitable for deployment in many episodes,” he agreed.

In addition, when he launched his project four years ago, he quickly learned that two other production companies were making their own documentary series on the subject: Imagissime for TMC – Solar temple, the impossible investigation aired in June – and Yuzu Productions – with Brothers and sisters expected in early 2023 on Canal +.

“It’s not so disruptive in the sense that people concerned about this story find themselves being called by many production companies, directors and investigators…

“I hesitate to say to other production companies: ‘That’s enough!’ »

“I thought it would be easy to collect testimonies because thirty years have passed. But that is not the case because there is something shameful and taboo about being part of a cult. It took a long time to convince our interlocutors,” said Matthieu Belghiti. He added: “We absolutely refuse to have a form of exclusivity with our witnesses, which is unnecessary for others. [Alain Vuarnet, fils et frère de deux victimes ne s’exprimera que dans Fraternités, par exemple]. It was a problem for us. I admit that many times I hesitated to call other production companies to tell them “That’s enough!” These are not practices that seem normal to me. Even in the United States, we never ask that. »

Before signing his contract, a Swiss journalist specializing in the Order of the Solar Temple changed his mind and went to the competition – in this case the TMC project. What’s Up Films falls to one of its counterparts. “We have no regrets, thanks to him, we were able to convince the Swiss police to open the files that he had not shown before”, applauded the producer who lined up to get his hands on the unpublished video and audio recordings .

Unpublished archives

“Jo Di Mambro [l’un des fondateurs du Temple solaire], at the end of his life, was quite paranoid. He recorded a lot, especially phone conversations. I don’t know if it was to build something for him or to leave traces. We will never know. »

Bruno Joucla had to sort through a hundred hours of archives. “There are many incomprehensible, many sequences related to rituals, said the director. As we have done, from the beginning, chose not to add comments, everything depends on testimonials. When a follower talks about his life within the sect, it is necessary to find, among the images that exist, what gives meaning. »

“Accept the unreasonable”

The interviews with former followers, journalists and investigators each lasted between four and six hours. “Obviously, we can’t tell everything, says Bruno Joucla. For example, I have to ignore the cosmic marriage where Di Mambro separated couples and remarried him to new spouses. I’m not looking for a scoop. This that story has been treated many times but, mostly, from a rational angle. We left by accepting the irrational part. This made it possible to penetrate better into the logic of the followers. They stigmatized a lot when it came out case. At that time, we did not try to understand what they were experiencing. »

More than simply shining a spotlight on the facts that happened before the new millennium, the producer and director pursue a common goal: to bring the facts of the past to the resonance of our time. “We rediscover the fear, the sadness, the loss of a world, the search for good. The sectarian phenomena are different but they have not disappeared”, the first advances. The second says he wants to open the “several lines of thought in the mechanisms that echo the conspiracy: sometimes, we are blinded by our beliefs. »

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