‘Holy Hell’: How One Man Documented 22 Years Inside a Sadistic Cult
It’s easy to see how Buddhafield members got initially sucked in by Rostand’s charisma; even the ones who now hate him describe him at first glance as “ethereal,” “magical,” “otherworldly” and “beautiful.” “I was floating walking home,” admits Vera Chieffo, who left the cult in 2009 after 27 years. “But he was also friggin’ weird.” The man known mainly as “The Teacher” would parade around the compound in speedos and Ray-Bans, demanding his disciples to be in peak physical and mental health through rigorous exercise, meditation and abstinence from sex, alcohol, drugs, caffeine and red meat.
But while he was outwardly preaching asceticism, Rostand would prey on young men like Allen, “promoting” the filmmaker to be his personal driver and masseuse before allegedly sexually abusing him and other members on multiple occasions. “Some of them are still figuring it out that it was rape because it didn’t seem like that,” Phillipe Coquet, who spent 24 years with Buddhafield, says. (Rostand has not been charged or arrested in connection with the abuses.) Members would often receive mixed messages, with their leader often noting, for example, the joys of sex before immediately rebuking it as “simple” and unhealthy. “He used to slap my face in front of other people just to fuck with me and use me as an example of somebody who’s really devoted,” Coquet says. “And the next day he would compare me to a saint.”
“We were all there for the same reason and I was just trying to figure out what happened,” Allen says. “I was trying [in the film] to expose a human condition to all of us. We do give away our power in situations. Instead of judging [the members], how does it relate to [the viewer]? Where in their life have they let someone take their power away and why haven’t they stood up for themselves and put a stop to something that’s causing them pain? Are we all just codependent?”
Allen and other former members say they’ve heard from rape victims, people in abusive relationships and workers at large corporations who have drawn parallels between the film and their own lives.
“I’ve laughed and I’ve cried during this whole process. But laughing is the healing one,” Allen says. “Every time I cry about something, I feel like I’m going backwards into bad pain. Laughter is really above it. We all have a fresh day to start and we can start over.”