NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Is a controversial Brentwood church a cult from which it's difficult for members to escape?
That's one of the many questions raised by a new documentary series that begins streaming this week on HBO Max, looking into the world of Gwen Shamblin Lara and the Remnant Fellowship.
Filmmaker Marina Zenovich has previously produced highly acclaimed biographical documentaries whose subjects have included Lance Armstrong, Richard Pryor and Robin Williams.
Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship, she said, was different.
"It is not a project that you would normally think I would be the right person for," Zenovich told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"But in the end, I think I was because I kind of came in as an outsider, as someone who doesn’t normally do these types of projects -- and I was very curious. It was almost like an anthropological study."
The documentary series examines how Shamblin’s Christian weight loss program -- the Weigh Down Workshop -- became its own religion.
The Remnant Fellowship is located on Franklin Road in the heart of Brentwood.
"You know this is a difficult one because it affects a lot of lives," Zenovich said.
REVIEW: As the journalist who has probably done more reporting on Gwen Shamblin Lara and Remnant Fellowship than any other, trust me: #TheWayDown is PHENOMENAL! I want to be filmmaker Marina Zenovich when I grow up! Begins streaming Sept. 30th on @HBOMax. pic.twitter.com/P8BIV3a2F2— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) September 27, 2021
The HBO Max trailer quotes an unidentified person as saying, "How members of Remnant behave is a bit like Handmaid's Tale and Stepford Wives."
Another added, "They want you to be clones of them."
"It’s all about appearances."
Yet another declares, "To me, the devil is a myth, but I’ve met Gwen Shamblin -- and she’s real."
Zenovich’s film was in its final stages when a plane carrying Shamblin, her husband Joe Lara and five other Remnant leaders crashed into Percy Priest Lake back in May.
"It really took time to process it because it so shocking," the filmmaker said. "We decided we had to open up the series and put the plane crash in and continue filming."
Church leaders issued a statement, insisting that “Remnant Fellowship categorically denies the absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in this documentary.”
"We reached out to the church over the past nine months trying to get Gwen Shamblin, leaders, just trying to get anyone from inside their bubble to speak to us -- and no one would," Zenovich said.
Gwen Shamblin is heard in the documentary, in part, through her interviews with NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"You know this story better than me," Zenovich said.
"I’m a documentary filmmaker. It’s scary, but you come into a world, you know nothing and you just try to get people in the world to open up and tell you their story. And we got a lot of people to talk."
The initial series includes three episodes.
Zenovich says she hopes even more members of Remnant Fellowship will come forward as they continue to produce more episodes.
The documentary series will stream on HBO Max, beginning Thursday.