‘The Way Down’: HBO documentary highlights founder of controversial Brentwood church

Middle TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — HBO Max has released a documentary about a former Brentwood church leader. “The Way Down” tells the story of Gwen Shamblin Lara, who lead the Remnant Church Fellowship.

“God revealed to me that the key to permanent weight control is a matter of the heart,” Lara is heard saying in a clip from the documentary. That, executive producers say, was the core of Lara’s beliefs and what inspired her to start a controversial weight loss program within the church.

The documentary focuses on Lara’s rise to fame as a diet guru and the accusations she and the church faced of emotional and physical abuse, as well as cult-like practices.

“How members of Remnant behave is a bit like ‘Handmaids Tale and Stepford Wives,'” says a person interviewed in the documentary. “They want you to be clones of them; it’s all about appearances.”

Executive producer, Nile Cappello, along with filmmaker Marina Zenovich, were putting the finishing touches on the documentary earlier this year when a plane carrying Lara and six other people, including her husband and fellow church members, crashed into Percy Priest Lake. 

News 2’s Nikki Burdine spoke with Cappello about the film.

“Our number one thing was, ‘okay, how do we still tell this story’, because the story, it still is true, and all of these people still did go through these experiences,” said Cappello.

“So obviously, the plane crash was a surprise, but also a tragedy, and seven people lost their lives. We wanted to be really sensitive about that,” he added.

Cappello said the crash changed their plans, and they took their next cues from the people they interviewed.

“All of these survivors, their stories are still true and deserve to be heard. So, we were really empowered by their reactions, and them saying, ‘this is a tragedy’, and obviously, we need to address it.”

He continued, “But that being said, it would be a real disservice to everyone involved to not bring what we’ve discovered over the course of this investigation to light.” 

The first three episodes are live on HBO Max now, and they focus on the church leading up to the crash.

“You hear from a real range of people,” said Cappello. “I didn’t expect to relate to these people quite as much as I did, and that was something that right off the bat drove me and was a very powerful force moving me forward in this project. I hope (that is) something that everyone takes away from this project is like this can happen to anyone.”

“To me the devil is a myth, but I’ve met Gwen Shamblin, and she’s real,” another person says in the newly released trailer for the documentary.

Part two will be released in early spring and will focus on the crash and where the church goes from here, with Lara’s two children now taking over.

Producers of the documentary said they repeatedly reached out to the church since 2018 to be included in the documentary.

However, representatives from the church refused to participate and sent a statement that is included in the documentary. 

“We welcome any opportunity to speak with any of them that only allows us to portray a more 3-D image of the church, and a more accurate image of the church,” said Cappello. “So, we hope that in the future that the door is still open that perhaps they need, contact us after this first drop.”

News 2 also reached out to Remnant Fellowship Church and this is the statement we received in response to the documentary: 

“Remnant Fellowship categorically denies the absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in the HBO documentary, The Way Down. Our Christian beliefs, like hundreds of other churches in the United States, are Bible-based, and our church is a place based on love, care, mercy, and kindness shown to people from all walks of life. Our teachings have helped thousands to overcome strongholds, vices, and addictions. The church has also encouraged members to find their own personal relationship with God and has proven to restore numerous broken marriages and other relationships. Children are happy and healthy, being raised with the most love, care, support, and protection imaginable. 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.

Thousands have said that their lives have benefited from the mere-Christianity message of Remnant Fellowship and the Weigh Down Ministries, but we know that there is no one message that can ever please everyone.

As any other church, Remnant Fellowship operates under all U.S. guidelines and laws.

Our church’s services and assemblies are webcast each week and viewed by people all around the world at no cost. Anyone seeking to learn more are always welcome to visit anytime online or in person. This is a place full of love and mercy with welcome, open arms to everyone around the world!”

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