This Documentary About a Kailua Cult is Causing a Commotion in the Community
“Holy Hell” is available for purchase in the iTunes Store, from Amazon Prime and Netflix and has been shown on CNN.
This flyer was mailed to thousands of residents of Kailua with the message: “The film he doesn’t want you to see … and he still lives near you.”
A documentary titled Holy Hell: 25 Years Inside a Modern Cult is creating an uproar among Windward O‘ahu residents who learned from the film that the group’s Speedo-wearing leader has been based in Lanikai for several years.
The group first formed in West Hollywood, originally calling itself the Buddhafield, then moved to Austin, Texas; and then relocated to O‘ahu 10 years ago.
The film by the group’s former documentarian, Will Allen, was backed by actor-musician Jared Leto. It has appeared nationwide on CNN, and was shown Aug. 19 and 20 as part of the Hawai‘i Rainbow Film Festival at the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Allen drew from his hundreds of hours of footage to make the case that the group started happy, with shared spiritual goals and rare bonds of friendship. But, by the time he left, he and other men in the film, gay and straight, said they had for years been manipulated into sex with the leader, a man who has gone by Jaime Gomez, Michel, Andreas and, more recently, Reyji. The Venezuelan-born spiritual leader has been a ballet dancer and an actor.
At the Aug. 19 Hawai‘i premiere, real-life drama among former members erupted on stage when Allen and a handful of others who appeared in the film fielded questions from the audience. Honolulu yoga teacher Murti Hower implored the audience: “You guys who are still in it, wake up!” He told those gathered that a man who looked “like Mr. Clean” had come to his studio after the film came out: “My life was threatened.”
Things got even more heated, and security pressed closer to the stage, when Black Cat Salon’s Jentry Petzold came on stage, saying he had left the community about a year earlier and had not had an abusive experience. Petzold kicked off his remarks by calling Hower a “dumbass” and Hower’s wife a “psychotic Chihuahua” who harassed him in Whole Foods Market.
Petzold then said he remained on cordial terms with the leader: “I call him Andreas because that’s how I was introduced to him.” He said he had even recently shown pictures of his infant child to Andreas.
At the film showing, Hower said the group recruits through yoga connections, as members founded Aloha Yoga Kula, a studio so popular in Kailua it won a HONOLULU Magazine reader poll this year as Best Yoga Studio.
Asked for comment, the studio told us, “Aloha Yoga Kula is not and has never been a recruitment center for Reyji and is in no way connected with the subject matter in the movie Holy Hell.”
The My Kailua Facebook page has lit up a few times with the controversy. Some said the leader stares deeply into the eyes of those he meets. Others say the group is filled with beautiful, spiritual people.
Tensions generated by the documentary are being felt throughout the yoga and wellness community, and in the lead-up to the Hawai‘i premiere, FarmLovers Farmers Markets founder and businesswoman Pamela Boyar sent a letter to the film festival and others protesting the use of her image in the film and urging it not be shown. She wrote: “He is using private footage of me without my permission ... to not only make a name and money for himself, but to promote a personal vendetta.”
In response to a request for further comment, Boyar threatened legal action if HONOLULU quoted from the letter she sent. She added: “If these allegations had a salt of truth to them, don’t you think they would have pressed charges? They know they cannot do that because if they chose to enter into a sexual relationship, for one week or five years, that was consensual. If there was anything happening that they didn’t agree with, they could have used their black belt skills to overpower this slight man with a bad back.”