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HBO Max alters docuseries The Way Down's plans after its weight-loss guru subject Gwen Shamblin Lara died in a plane crash

  • The Way Down was close to being finished and had a September premiere date when Gwen Shamblin Lara, a weight-loss guru and the founder of the Remnant Fellowship Church, and her husband, Tarzan: The Epic Adventures star Joe Lara, were killed in a plane crash in a lake near Nashville, Tennessee on May 29. "The leader of a midsize congregation, Ms. Lara, 66, had for the past several years been the main subject of a documentary project that sought to get beyond the gilded veneer of the Remnant Fellowship and investigate its inner workings," explains The New York Times' Nicole Sperling. "Set to debut on HBO Max in the fall, the multi-episode project, The Way Down, details the church’s origin in Ms. Lara’s religious-based weight-loss program, the Weigh Down Workshop. The diet program brought Ms. Lara fame — through appearances on popular shows like Larry King Live — and fortune, thanks to best-selling books touting her strategies to lose weight. But it also made her a controversial figure, with critics saying Weigh Down focused more on unconventional theology than on healthy eating habits. The documentary examines those issues, along with allegations that the church shunned and even harassed members who wanted to leave and that it functions more as a cult than a traditional religious institution. At the time of the crash, the finishing touches were being put on the series. Suddenly, the filmmakers were faced with a new set of questions. What was the extent of Mr. Lara’s flying experience (he was operating the aircraft), and were his medical records up to date? What would happen to the church now that its founder and leader was dead? (A day after the crash, the church released a statement saying Ms. Lara’s daughter and son 'intend to continue the dream that Gwen Shamblin Lara had of helping people find a relationship with God.') And what would happen in the bitter custody case, involving Mr. Lara’s daughter with his ex-wife, which formed a crucial story line in the documentary? The filmmakers also said that since the crash, they had found that more people were eager to speak to them — former congregants who said they had previously been unwilling to go against the church publicly because they still had family members who are affiliated, and relatives of those killed in the crash who were skeptical of the church and now felt compelled to share their stories." Sperling adds: "While the filmmakers scrambled to incorporate news of the crash and its aftermath into the documentary, HBO Max altered its plans too. Now, rather than release a four-part series at the end of September, the first three episodes of The Way Down  will become available on Sept. 30, concluding with a 'To Be Continued' message. The final two episodes will debut in early 2022, giving the filmmakers time to deal with the new footage. The documentary now begins with local news coverage of the crash."

    TOPICS: HBO Max, The Way Down, Gwen Shamblin Lara, Joe Lara, Documentaries