It is a mystery that has persisted for almost thirty years. The massacres of The sect the Order of the Solar Temple, which occurred between 1994 and 1997, in France, in Swiss and at Canada, killed 74 people. If the term “collective suicides” is systematically attached to this case, the fact remains that several of the victims identified were murdered.
Why ? The question always arises after The sectdocumentary mini-series in four episodes put online this Friday on somersault. “The interest of this kind of story is to try to understand how we got there. We focused the narration on the influence of the gurus on the followers in order to show the mechanisms at work, “explains director Bruno Joucla to 20 minutes.
This is the first time that the latter has rubbed shoulders with serial writing. 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 of the buoyant genre that is the true crime.
The subject particularly spoke to the producer. “As a child, I used to go on vacation to the Vercors, [où treize adultes et trois enfants ont été immolés en 1995], it was a shock for me as for all of society at the time. A person close to me was also confronted with a sectarian movement,” he explains. “And then there are not so many news items conducive to deployment over several episodes,” he concedes.
Moreover, when he launched his project four years ago, he was quick to learn that two other production companies were developing their own documentary series on the subject: Imagissime for TMC – Solar temple, the impossible investigation aired in June – and Yuzu Productions – with Fraternities expected in early 2023 on Canal +.
“It’s very disabling in the sense that the people concerned by this story find themselves being called by several production companies, directors and investigators… and do not understand this sudden craze”, laments Bruno Joucla.
“I hesitated to say to the other production companies: ‘That’s enough!’ »
“I thought it would be easy to collect testimonies since thirty years have passed. But that was not the case because there is still something very shameful and taboo about having been part of a cult. It took a very long time to convince our interlocutors,” says Matthieu Belghiti. He adds: “We categorically refused to have a form of exclusivity on our witnesses, which is not necessarily the case for the 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 several times I hesitated to call the other production companies to tell them “That’s enough!” These are not practices that seem normal to me. Even in the United States, we were never asked that. »
Just 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 fell back on one of its counterparts. “We do not regret, thanks to her, we were able to convince the Swiss police to open files that she had never shown before”, applauds the producer who underlines having thus got his hands on videos and audio recordings unpublished.
“Jo Di Mambro [l’un des fondateurs du Temple solaire], at the end of his life, was a bit paranoid. He recorded a lot, especially telephone conversations. I don’t know if it was to build something for him or to leave traces. We’ll never know. »
Bruno Joucla had to sort through a hundred hours of archives. “Many were incomprehensible, many sequences concerned rituals, says the director. As we have, from the start, made the choice not to add comments, everything depends on the testimonials. When a follower talks about what he lived inside the sect, it was necessary to find, among the images available, what gave meaning. »
“Accept the irrational”
The interviews with former followers, journalists and investigators each lasted between four and six hours. “Obviously, we cannot tell everything, assumes Bruno Joucla. For example, I had to ignore the cosmic marriages where Di Mambro separated the couples and remarried him with new partners. I wasn’t looking for a scoop. This story has been treated many times but, most of the time, from a rational angle. We took a step aside by accepting the irrational side. This makes it possible to enter much better into the logic of the followers. They were greatly stigmatized when the case came out. At the time, we did not try to understand what they had experienced. »
Beyond simply shining a spotlight on facts that occurred before the new millennium, producer and director pursue a common objective: to bring the facts of yesterday into resonance with our time. “We rediscover the fear, the anguish, of the disappearance of a certain world, the search for well-being. The sectarian phenomena are different but they have not disappeared”, advances the first. The second says that he wanted to open “a few lines of thought on the mechanisms that echo with conspiracy: sometimes, we are blinded by our beliefs. »