The beginning of September saw the unveiling of a new film with a unique single-word title: Apostasy. A word which has little meaning or function to most people,  but to Jehovah’s Witnesses, apostasy is Kryptonite.  It is the ultimate sin.

Siobhan Finneran, Molly Wright and Sacha Parkinson in Apostasy
Siobhan Finneran, Molly Wright and Sacha Parkinson in Apostasy


Dan Kokotajlo
Dan Kokotajlo

Writer and director Dan Kokotajlo reached deep into his own Jehovah’s Witness childhood to explore the destructive nature of religious control and interference, capturing with precision the punishment inflicted upon a family when one member decides to have a relationship – with a non-Jehovah’s Witness. Dating and marriage outside of the Witness faith is strictly forbidden, and a physical relationship is a guaranteed path to being disfellowshipped and shunned. But the worst sin of all is vocal rejection of the JW dogma, or apostasy. While Witnesses frequently forgive sins ranging from “fornication” to murder and child molestation, welcoming such persons back into the fold, even from prison – an apostate of this religion will be ultra-shunned. The Watchtower magazine once lamented that public execution for apostasy is no longer an option. As recently as 2011, Jehovah’s Witness leaders declared that apostates are “mentally diseased,” a statement which caused global outrage among former Witnesses, and even resulted in a police investigation, as reported by the Guardian. 


Former Jehovah’s Witness John Kurtz had an opportunity to attend the premier of the film Apostasy at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has contributed his thoughts about this much-anticipated movie:

Apostasy is a movie about a Jehovah’s Witness family consisting of a single, older mother and her two, almost grown-up, daughters.  This excellent film takes place in modern day England and addresses many situations that would be indicative to Jehovah’s Witnesses around the globe.  Some of the terms used in the movie as well as the scenery would be a little unfamiliar to people in other parts of the world, but after a half an hour or so I found that I could follow along quite easily.  This movie had its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2017. I was so excited to be given a ticket and accompanied by my friend who was once one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and served as an elder in Toronto.  The highest I ever managed to reach in the Jehovah’s Witness world was Ministerial Servant and a regular pioneer.

Apostasy Premier at the September Toronto International Film Festival
Apostasy Premier at the Toronto International Film Festival


Like so many Jehovah’s Witnesses who have left their faith, or have slowed down in their activity with the Watchtower organization, I was very curious to see this movie.  It isn’t often that movies or television shows deal with the subject of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I was interested in seeing what information would be covered.  The story of Apostasy covers a few different subject matters that any Jehovah’s Witness would recognize and identify with.  I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but I think that it’s safe to say that the strength of this film comes from its accurate portrayal of the day-to-day life of ordinary Jehovah’s Witnesses, and not just from clever writing or unexpected twists in the story.  The movie is so accurate in fact that we were left wondering if the filmmaker had access to a Kingdom Hall.  So many of the interactions and situations shown in the film had us laughing out loud and, I’m sure, the rest of the packed theater couldn’t understand what we found so funny. 

The one problem that I really had with this movie is the title itself.  I don’t know why Dan Kokotajlo decided on the word Apostasy, as  I didn’t find anything “apostate” about the film at all.  In fact, with only slight changes to the narrative or different accents on some of the shots, the Watchtower Society could use this movie as one of its propaganda pieces.  It was just that good and accurate.  No one is shown as being evil or even having a bad motive (to use a Jehovah’s Witness term) in the Kingdom Hall or outside in their leisure or work activities.  In fact this is a very salient point; most Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they are doing very good and important work and they genuinely care for each other.  Many Jehovah’s Witnesses can also navigate quite successfully through life even though they are saddled with many rules and restrictions that other people wouldn’t understand.  Certainly, in some cases, having a purpose in life and some structure, could be very helpful, even if the whole belief system was wrong.  When your whole family and all of your social connections have the same lifestyle as you, no matter how strange this would appear to other people, it would feel very natural and comfortable to someone who was immersed in it.  As far as my own background of growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, I can honestly say that I met some fantastic people and had some really fun times.  Having rigid rules probably stopped me from gambling, taking drugs, drinking too much alcohol or having premarital sex.  It wouldn’t work for everyone, as we all respond differently to situations, but it did work for me for a long time.  Of course, having these same restrictions also prevented me from going to university, pursuing a career, or thinking about property ownership and investments until I had mentally left the group much later, almost too late.  Also, I cannot say that banning myself from having sex was a good thing at all.  I believe that the movie Apostasy shows these facts well.  The Jehovah’s Witness community is shown to be one of friends  who have fun gatherings, work together in their businesses and even share baked goods at the Kingdom Hall – all while they are dealing with the crushing mental burdens of their beliefs. 

The protagonist of the film had a blood transfusion forced upon her at birth.  This situation was dealt with well, although I would say that it is just a small minority of Jehovah’s Witnesses that ever really have to deal with that issue.  It was my pleasure to have a conversation with the well-known actor, Stanley Tucci, following the premier of his film The Children Act, also featured at the Toronto International Film Festival.  I told Stanley that I had been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and was very familiar with the subject of a JW fighting off blood transfusions as portrayed in his movie. I also told this actor that I had learned from JW Survey that about 30,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses had died from the Watchtower directives on blood.  Mr. Tucci replied that modern medicine has killed far more people than that.  What this intelligent and insightful man was saying was that we should have a say over our medical treatment and that probably many of the substances, drugs and operations used in medicine are harmful, in some ways.  So although no religious organization should force their opinions on you or your family, you should be part of the decision making process with your doctor.

The younger Jehovah’s Witness in Apostasy, the protagonist, is approached by a very nice, new, single elder in her congregation.  This is the dream of every woman in the Jehovah’s Witness world: to be courted by a young, cool, attractive elder.  The courtship takes place just as the Watchtower leaders recommend: The young couple talks about their spiritual goals and the mother sits just outside of the room, with the door open.  The older daughter, who would be certainly the antagonist if this were a Watchtower film, has already been disfellowshipped by this point for “immorality” and her out of wedlock pregnancy.  

Now the story line of the older sister getting pregnant and being publicly humiliated and shunned is something very familiar to me. This is exactly what happened to my sister when we were teenagers and still living at home.  My sister never benefited from having real-world discussions with our parents or anyone else, about sex.  We were simply told to avoid being alone with people of the opposite sex and to wait for marriage.  This seems to be the dream of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other evangelical and fanatical religious groups.  You just preach against sex – and it won’t happen.  But people aren’t built that way, and if they were, the human race would probably die out in a single generation (or possibly an overlapping generation, pun intended). The mother in the film reacted exactly like my mother did, and unless you have experienced this, it’s hard to believe that a person could abandon their child right when they need them the most. The indoctrination was shown very well –  the mother was extremely conflicted because she was looking for mercy and leniency from her elders and friends.  She was shown as someone whose mind was totally conditioned to follow the rules, even though it would be so easy and natural to do the right thing – to support and love her daughter and new granddaughter.  The elders were shown as very nice guys, but also as men who would not bend the rules.  From my experience, the actors used as elders would probably be the nicest and most qualified Jehovah’s Witnesses that you could hope to meet.  By contrast, the elders that I dealt with were often mean, uncaring or inept.  To a Jehovah’s Witness watching this film, it would seem natural and beneficial to follow the shunning rules.  To a person who was never part of this doomsday cult, the mandate that the mother and younger sister had to totally ignore this poor girl with her new baby would be mind boggling and extremely unloving, to say the least. 

   I am hoping that my mother will watch this film when she gets the chance, even though it might be very painful for her.  My mother tried so hard to be strong and faithful even though she was completely humiliated and tormented by what the Jehovah’s Witnesses put her though.  My parents were beaten down by the local elders, who only made a bad situation so much worse than it had to be.  The people who really did help my family were our “worldly” aunts, uncles and cousins.  These were the very people my parents thought would be laughing at them because of how they preached the Kingdom message and warned that they would be destroyed at Armageddon. 

Fortunately my parents and everyone else will be able watch this film soon because it will be widely available; it found a buyer at the film festival.   Although some tears will be shed as they relive a painful part of their past, my parents will also realize that other people went through the same experiences.  They should finally find solace in the fact that all around the world, Jehovah’s Witness elders enforce unloving rules, and they are unqualified to interfere with families.  At last they should realize that they weren’t picked on as individuals. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a system in place that processes people going through normal life situations and punishes them for deviating from their rules.  This is done on an industrial scale and in a repetitive manner everywhere Jehovah’s Witnesses can find the legal freedoms to take those same freedoms away from their members.

Some of the things that my friend and I found humorous about this movie was the scene where some children put on a drama for the older Jehovah’s Witnesses at one of their small parties.  This is a very common thing at JW gatherings. It can be cute as well as pathetic at the same time.  The movie also showed a scene where the two sisters were preaching at someone’s home.  It was so accurate that I felt like I was reliving that part of my life!  We also were astounded at the accuracy of the interior shots of the Kingdom Hall as well as all of the situations and terms that were used.  

I would recommend this film to anyone who wants to put some bad experiences to rest, to gain solace that your situation was by no means a one-off.  Many people are conflicted and tormented as they are punished for breaking the rules of a group of men who claim they work for God, and who hold the keys to unlocking your salvation.  If anyone can watch this movie, and take a step back, they should be able to see how crazy the whole concept of “God’s organization” really is.  Also, anyone that is the least bit curious about Jehovah’s Witnesses and wonders if this group really could have he “truth” should watch it.  They could spend just under two hours and experience pretty much everything an active JW would experience, and save themselves years or even decades of anguish and frustration.   –  John Kurtz 



Apostasy premiers September 28th and 29th at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain, followed by its début in London at the British Film Institute from October 8th through the 14th.



Mark O'Donnell

Mark O'Donnell is a former Jehovah's Witness turned whistleblower after discovering the disturbing child abuse epidemic within the religion. His story, along with the revelation of a secret database of child molesters were featured in the March 2019 online issue of the Atlantic Magazine: O'Donnell continues to investigate allegations of child abuse within the Witness organization, and works with law enforcement, attorneys, and survivors of abuse, writing about his findings on and other outlets.

48 thoughts on “News Bulletin: 2017 Film “Apostasy” Premieres in Toronto, Spain, and London

  • October 1, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    John Kurtz , you have provided a well written summary. I look forward to watching this movie some days, knowing very well what to expect. Does this file have closed circuit captions?

    • October 1, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      Pascal -we hope to get more information soon on the network/distribution method, and will certainly ask about the CC option


      • October 4, 2017 at 8:47 am

        Yes please let us know if They would provide CC option because I am deaf and grew up in JW organization almost all of my life until I left several years ago. Thanks!

        • October 6, 2017 at 9:53 am

          Renee – the film will be released sometime in 2018, and we have asked the producer if CC will be provided. As soon as we get confirmation we will post this information at the bottom of the article. Thanks!

  • October 1, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    Putting the spotlight on Watchtower and its horrific policies. Let the truth come out. Now the public will learn about what Jehovah’s Witnesses are all about while eating popcorn and a soda pop. Wonderful!!!

  • October 2, 2017 at 12:01 am

    id like to to see this film will it come out on dvd or possibly come to a local cinema? How can i get to see it without to much travelling?

  • October 2, 2017 at 12:09 am

    Let the world know about the culture of bullying and oppression that goes on in the organization. Let the world see how power over the sheep is the most important thing in the elders’ minds. May they know how much some of us suffer under the submission to these little dictators who are not decent people, let alone decent Christians.

  • October 2, 2017 at 4:11 am

    I suppose the title, while not one that I would have chosen, is a reflection on an ex-JW making this film at all, exposing the WTS for what it is, rather than what it would like to be perceived as……

    • October 2, 2017 at 4:12 am

      To make this film at all is an act of Apostasy.

  • October 2, 2017 at 5:51 am

    If I understand your article correctly, someone was disfellowshipped and subsequently shunned for marrying “out of the Truth”. That was not my experience as a Jehovah’s Witness for 42 years. That said, the rest is dead on and I look forward to seeing this film from the “other side”, having been freed now since 2012. Yes, it stole a big chunk of my life, but I am still here and managing just fine, after a period of readjustment (to say the least).

    • October 2, 2017 at 7:15 am

      Hi Nan Restid,

      No, the older sister in the movie was dating a worldly guy, got pregnant and was disfellowshipped. You don’t see the boyfriend again, after she moves out of home. It was never alluded to that she got married in the film.

      Sorry for the confusion,

      John Kurtz

      • October 2, 2017 at 6:21 pm

        Thank you, John. I could have read it wrong. I hope to see the film. It may even be cathartic for those of us who left in our older years, having given so much to the Watchtower in good faith.

        • December 24, 2017 at 8:12 am

          Wow.. I mean wow. This is what happened to my family. A dear friend of mine and my daughters, a fellow JW married a man who was not a witness. We attended the wedding. at the wedding my daughter met the younger son of the sister who was getting married. He was not a witness. So… the sister was ‘Marked’… We were told off. Then the bomb dropped.. my daughter and her son were pregnant.. my daughter was instantly df’d. The kids got married and as the wedding was at my now son in laws, mothers house and she already being marked we got into serious trouble and a huge talk was given at the hall leading my poor daughter to flee the hall in tears. I think the elder who gave the talk saw the hatred come from my eyes because he avoided me. Later on my son, who was previously df’d from a failed marriage… his wife committed adultery but he got blamed, re married a worldly girl and I attended the wedding…. oh boy. Poop hit the fan. The elders gave me a ‘shepherding call’ haha yeah right… all nice and cozy for about 20 minutes and then they got down to business… ‘How’, they asked, ‘Could I justify going to my df’d son’s wedding?’ I told them my conscience was my own and to leave. So I sat and waited… eventually notes appeared on my door wanting me to talk to the elders… not damn likely! A year passes and my son and daughter are now pregnant… the baby arrives very very prematurely. The night before she was born was the memorial and the last time I ever attended a meeting – 2015. Never once did any of the brothers or sisters ask about the baby.. they were all shunning me for my now outspoken questioning of the ARC situation.. I had letters stuffed in my door accusing me of Apostasy… I am still not df’d but shunned in a huge way. I have four beautiful granddaughters and looking forward to spending Christmas’ with family. Happy ending.

  • October 2, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks John for well written film review I tough that I may go to watch the film because I do live in TO but I couldn’t make it. Are you living here in TO as well ?

    • October 4, 2017 at 11:38 pm

      Yes, I live on the east side of Toronto, in Scarborough.

  • October 2, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Enjoyed your review, will certainly watch it when I can. Thank you for all your work.

  • October 2, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    I would imagine a stern warning coming from the Borg, do not watch this film or else!!!

  • October 3, 2017 at 7:09 am

    I hope it is made easily available to watch or download. With many similar limited audience niche movies they soon sink without trace due to the restrictive distribution method chosen in an attempt to monetise / avoid copying.

  • October 4, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Title is perfect- significant elements of the religion are apostate!Nice people who present a kind and gentle devotion notwithstanding. The governing body are spritual tyrants,bullies and cowards! Absolute punks, their day is coming.

    • October 11, 2017 at 10:39 am

      They call people apostates for finding out the truth, ◄ John 16:2 ►
      Verse (Click for Chapter)
      New International Version
      They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.

  • October 4, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Doesn’t Watchtower have enough to do then create sadistic movies based on Bible stories from the Old Testament.

    How about taking care of a legal department that keeps hemorrhaging losses on a great scale due to complacent, unreasonable policies.

    Or, what about the pedophiles who are taking the lead in your houses of leadership?

    We still can’t be sure that Watchtower itself will not be spared at Armageddon. Especially if their example is questionable in its own right.

  • October 5, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Has anybody seen the youtube clips about the $66 million class action court case against Watchtower which have recently surfaced?

    Is this true? If so, why hasn’t jwsurvey got information on it? We rely on jwsurvey to brighten up our day with these sorts of stories.

  • October 5, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Ricardo, good to hear from you, i will investigate the youtube this weekend, i call it the real news channel, the same with this site, i call it the truth!!!

  • October 6, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    I believe the title will put a lot of JWs off from watching it (some of them who would have probably watched it the title was different). They are so scared of this word.

    Watchtower will probably call it “fake news”.

  • October 8, 2017 at 2:50 am

    Does anyone know how/when/where we can watch this film?

    • October 8, 2017 at 9:01 am

      I know that it can take up to a year after the film festival for some movies to become available. Some films come to the festival with a release date right after, but those are usually big budget films that have a distribution company ready to go.
      This movie was purchased by a company but now that they own it, they will be determining how to release it and in what countries. It’s a complicated business.
      I would hope that they would put it on Netflix or Amazon but it’s so hard to say.

      • October 10, 2017 at 12:23 pm

        could this company be WTBTS?

  • October 8, 2017 at 10:48 am

    When are you going to disect the annual meeting????

  • October 8, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Where does that number 30,000 come from? I have spent 50 years as a jw and have yet to know of one person that died because they didnt have a blood transfussion. I sure many have died because they didnt take blood but I think the 30,000 is just an estimate and over exaggerated. If not, where does this number come from?

    • October 8, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Markie, you can have a look at this article for one reference.

      The data is a conservative estimate, and goes back to 1961 as the reference point. I personally know close to a dozen who have died from the blood transfusion issue, as well as more JWs than I can count who declined certain treatments for Leukemia, which resulted in their death. Another JW I know declined a treatment for her breast cancer because Watchtower deemed it a questionable treatment. She is now dead. Another close friend needed a liver transplant but did not get a liver in part because of his refusal of any blood transfusion treatments, which lowers a person on the priority transplant list. As a result he died two years ago. Some people never run into the issue, while others see it dozens of times as I have.

  • October 9, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Watchtower shrinkage continues at Annual Meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Public edition of Watchtower goes from 12 magazines to 3 in a year. Awake goes from 12 magazines to 3 in a year. A combining of the simplified edition with the normal study edition further reduces production. No more yearbooks. Shrinkage and more Shrinkage.

    Governing Body doing less work due to older age. Anthony Morris III cannot keep up with the Watchtower magazines. Therefore, he needs the material to be more at a third grade level.

    • October 9, 2017 at 7:21 am

      It boils down to one thing……$$$$. All cost containments.

    • October 10, 2017 at 4:47 am

      No more Yearbooks because the worldwide decreases are about to start. What a clever way to keep the decreases a secret- by no longer having yearbooks.

    • October 10, 2017 at 4:56 am

      @Doc, a small correction. the Watchtower and Awake public editions are only printed 6 magazines each a year, not 12.

      @jwsurvey, as well as the annual meeting report, can you make a report on the $66 million class action lawsuit filed in Canada against Watchtower last month? Come on guys, these sorts of reports bring joy to our heart and a smile on our face.

      • October 13, 2017 at 12:57 pm

        You’re right Ricardo. Thanks for the clarification.

      • October 13, 2017 at 6:24 pm


        I recently read a news article stating the attorney retained in the case you mention is seeking $250,000 for each victim. I believe the article just named one victim whose complaint initiated filing that petition for a class action suit. Maybe her lawyer is also attempting to make WT deposit money in a fund for future claimants, since she’s requested a class action case be heard instead of just representing her present client. Sixty-six mill with claimants each receiving $250,000 would allow for 264 claimants. Since there were over a thousand victims in Australia there are probably over 264 in Canada.

        This statement from the New York Times suggests possible settlement amounts attorneys might hope will be paid in such cases, “The San Diego diocese reached a settlement of nearly $200 million with 144 people in 2007. The diocese in Wilmington, Del., settled for $77 million with 146 abuse victims in 2011.” Those settlements came from Catholic diocese settling child abuse cases. I believe Zalkin was instrumental in obtaining the San Diego settlement. He’s stated that Catholic officials are much easier to deal with when approaching them as adversaries in a law suit than is WT or its representatives.

        • October 13, 2017 at 6:30 pm

          Correction: I said Canada, but if I remember correctly the article I read said the claim was to represent victims in Quebec, one of Canada’s provinces.

  • October 9, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Time is their enemy

  • October 12, 2017 at 6:46 am

    The Weinstein Company just terminated co-founder Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment. Sexual Harassment is not tolerated by the legal system in the United States. If a company is found out supporting sexual harassment by not doing something about it, the company is held into account for it.

    Just like Sexual Harassment, child sexual abuse is another sex crime that is permitted by religions. The legal system needs to hold religions accountable for such acts. Even if the religion does nothing and does not report the act to the authorities.

    I applaud the Weinstein Company for doing something about the issue and not just sitting on their hands and doing nothing about it. Once they found out and did their investigation, they acted.

    • October 15, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      Applaud them? You do realize they probably let it go on for years. Now they are just mitigating their damages.

  • October 13, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Watchtower is playing into the hands of Satan the devil himself by not being proactive in protecting children from sexual predators.

    • October 13, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      The Weinstein Company were free to use their brains because they weren’t hobbled by religious belief?

      • October 15, 2017 at 4:49 pm

        The Weinstein Companies founder was the actual rapist. They are just being proactive in stopping the coming monetary hemorrhaging.

        • October 16, 2017 at 1:38 am

          Correct Markie. A primary concern in managing operations inside organizations, usually THE primary concern in most large organizations is the bottom dollar. Bottom dollar usually trumps concern for anyone else not part of the team that’s manipulating circumstances, or even concern for single individuals that are part of that team, in whatever org they belong to. Administrators see their jobs as existing to hold on to it and acquire it for their org. The acquisition of and control of money usually has the biggest influence on administrators inside organizations.

  • October 14, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Just seen it at the London Festival. It’s an amazing story. Well done Daniel and the team.

Comments are closed.