Lane said her artistic goals were “to explore the lines between performance and authenticity, pretense and sincerity, belief and reality — and to situate The Satanic Temple within a much longer story about the fraught relationship between church and state going back to the founding of the United States.”
Speaking to Filmmaker Magazine in an interview published in January 2019, Lane said she resisted pressure to cover “drama” during filming, such as the departure of some high-profile chapters from the Satanic Temple organization, the hiring of a controversial lawyer, and “all kinds of accusations and callouts left and right.”
The documentary includes interviews with contemporary adherents to the Satanic Temple, coverage of its advocacy and the protests in response, and historical coverage of the 1980s “Satanic panic.” Its commentary takes a swing at Catholic sex abuse scandals.
Lucien Greaves, the pseudonymous co-founder and spokesman for the organization, reportedly had only one condition for the movie, a refusal to do re-enactments, Lane said.
In response to Filmmaker Magazine interviewer’s questions about whether the Satanic Temple might be “manipulating” Satanism to serve their political agenda, Lane replied: “They are Satanists and I am not, so I certainly would never worry about them somehow ‘manipulating’ Satanism.”
According to Lane, she has begun to think of religion “less as a list of beliefs and more as a practice.”
“How do our beliefs manifest every day into reality — into how we treat other living beings and ourselves?” she asked. “The fact that the Satanists get so much grief for somehow not being authentic and sincere is, to me, mind-boggling — and evidence only of prejudice against a marginalized group, and a misunderstanding of what religion actually is.”
The “Hail, Satan?” documentary, besides premiering at the Sundance Festival, is also an official selection of the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2019.
While the documentary’s director appears to take the temple at face value, its history includes parody, discussions about its sincerity, and inflammatory claims to have a consecrated Host from a Catholic Mass in its possession.
Among the Satanic Temple’s earliest events was a January 2013 demonstration at the Florida state capitol appearing to support Republican Gov. Rick Scott from a Satanist position. Legislation backed by the then-governor would allow school districts to have policies allowing students to read “inspirational messages” of their choice at school assemblies and sports events.
The demonstration featured an actor in the role of a satanic high priest. Several would-be minions and spokesman Lucien Greaves were also at the rally, saying the law would allow students to distribute Satanic messages.
“This is not a hoax. This is for real,” Greaves had said ahead of the 2013 event.
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That same month, the Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog reported that Lucien Greaves was listed as casting director of a feature film called “The Satanic Temple.” A casting call on the Actors Access website sought actors “to be the followers of a charismatic yet down to earth Satanic cult leader,” required to wear “tasteful Satanic garb.”
“Spectacle Films and Polemic Media … are producing a mockumentary about the nicest Satanic Cult in the world,” said the casting call, according to the Huffington Post.
The Satanic Temple was behind a reputed attempt to hold a black mass on the campus of Harvard University in May 2014, but the event was moved and then cancelled after intense outcry from Catholics and others who saw it as a grave sin against God, deliberate provocation of Catholics, or a violation of basic norms of civility and respect.
The event was reported to be held under the aegis of the Cultural Studies Club of the Harvard Extension School.
A spokesperson for The Satanic Temple initially told media outlets that a consecrated Host would be used, although the temple and the Cultural Studies Club both later denied this, insisting that only a plain piece of bread would be used.
Shane Bugbee, an early collaborator of the Satanic Temple, told a version of the group’s history at the Vice magazine website, and then a more critical version in an interview with the Village Voice and related blog posts in 2014. He said that Lucien Greaves is in fact Doug Mesner, who reportedly studied at Harvard University, focusing on neuroscience and false memory related to ritual abuse and alien abduction.