Director Penny Lane Discusses New Documentary Hail Satan?
by Hope Madden
“Blasphemy is very much a declaration of personal independence.”
That’s just one of many gems spoken by members of The Satanic Temple in the latest documentary by filmmaker Penny Lane (yes, that’s her real name), Hail Satan?
Lane spoke with Hope Madden during her national tour in support of the recently released doc.
Hope Madden: What inspired you to make Hail Satan?
Penny Lane: I’d just heard about The Satanic Temple on the news. Initially, I didn’t have any privileged access or information about them. I got the same information everyone else got from hilarious headlines about their Baphomet monument in Oklahoma.
And as I understood the story, I thought it was a joke. Just a joke. They weren’t actually Satanists. I didn’t know there were any Satanists, so I just sort of assumed it was a joke because, what do I know?
HM: And yet they turn out to be earnest, lovely people. Sort of scrappy idealists you can’t help but root for.
PL: It was the surprise, right? You have what you might think the story will be, and that’s not what it really was at all. And then of course, as you see in the film, it’s way more interesting than that, actually. That’s such a delight! I wanted to share it with other people.
The closer I got, the more interesting it was, and that’s the thing you look for as an artist. If you’re asking people to spend an hour and a half with something, you want it to be interesting to think about.
HM: What surprised you the most about their story?
PL: Initially, the humor in the topic and the kind of philosophical implications of what they were doing in terms of law or politics interested me. They’re on the surface. But the sincerity and the affirmative identification as Satanists as a religion was really moving to me, ultimately.
I didn’t necessarily expect to be so inspired and so moved by their story, and I think you see that reflected in the film. It kind of sneaks up on you. About halfway through the film you’re thinking, oh, these are actual human beings who have found something really meaningful in this concept, in this paradigm, the church, the movement—whatever you want to call it. It really got to me. It surprised me.
HM: You capture some of the pushback TST feels from government agencies, news media and counter protesters, some of which is ugly but a lot of it is almost as funny and insightful as the quotes from Temple members. One counter protester tells you: “Their platform is a separation of church and state, so it sounds really nice. They just want to irritate, if you want to know the truth.” Hilarious and true. But on the whole, responses were, well, biblical.
PL: At the Republican National Convention you had people onstage saying things like Hillary Clinton is in league with the devil. The Satanic Temple is owning a pejorative that’s already leveled against people like them.
HM: Did you get any pushback in trying to get this distributed?
PL: Sort of, but not really. You don’t need every executive to like your idea to get funded, you just need one. It wasn’t like everyone was totally on board or got it initially, but why would they be? Pretty big lack of information here. Magnolia pictures just understood the project immediately. They didn’t have the same kind of doubts about it that other people might have had.