Awards Daily talks to Love Has Won director Hannah Olson about her riveting docuseries, the class structure that led followers to Mother God, and what it was like being in that hotel room with the Father of Creation.
Hannah Olson started filming the HBO docuseries Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God just three weeks after Love Has Won founder Amy Carlson was discovered mummified in a dilapidated house in Crestone, Colorado. While the director was initially interested in how the internet contributes to the loss of consensus reality in a post-Trump world, she soon learned Carlson’s story was more layered and complex.
“I became very interested in the set of social circumstances that brought people into Love Has Won and the pain and trauma that made people go down the wormhole to look for a new reality, the loneliness at the heart of these communities and conspiracies,” says Olson. “The pain and the trauma are actually quite relatable, so I met them there in that place of empathy.”
One of the ways the documentary immerses you in the world of Love Has Won is through Olson’s careful directorial eye, with questions that come from a place of genuine curiosity. She reports the story without any angle or judgment, lighting the surviving members in what they’re comfortable with: brilliant light (like the gloss of a Ring light) and a Mother God blanket in the background.
“These are all people who are Googling about how to make their lives better. They wanted healing. Rich people can afford talk therapy and antidepressants and have all kinds of mental health resources that are just so scarcely available to the vast majority of the American population. While it was hard for me to relate to their 5D beliefs [what is known as “the galactic”], the 3D [earthly] circumstances that led them to 5D were imminently relatable.”
For 14 years, Amy Carlson gained followers through social media, and much of her evolution and rise can be traced through changing social media platforms, from MySpace all the way to Zoom.
“The introduction of the algorithm on social media drastically changed her reach. It made it much easier to find Amy because as Andrew says [in the doc], when people would type in search terms like ‘healing’ and ‘spirituality,’ there were ways to link Love Has Won to those searches, so it was like pouring kerosene on the operation.”
‘I Was Worried for My Safety, Too’
To initiate audiences into this world, Olson doesn’t include talking head experts and instead lets members tell the story.
“The documentary film is the most powerful when it can immerse you fully in an experience or in a world that the viewer might not otherwise have access to. And in that immersion, I hope that people find a sense of empathy. I think that having someone from the outside explaining what you should think about what you’re seeing detracts from that experience. My rule was if you weren’t there, you don’t get to talk about it.”
In this way, so many of the members become people you grow to care about throughout the series, like, Ashley, a.k.a. Archeia Hope, who calls Carlson, or “Mom,” her best friend.
“Hope said many times to me, ‘What’s cult? Culture’s a cult.’ It’s my hope that one of the things viewers take away is that you get to choose what you worship in life. People worship all kinds of things.”
Other members, like Jason, a.k.a Father of Creation, make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Even his mere presence in the final scene of Episode 1 is chilling. When I tell Olson I worried for her safety, she says, “I was worried for my safety, too.”
“I interviewed him over the course of three days in that hotel room,” she continues, “and it was a very intense experience in my life. I think Amy was the kind of person who becomes whoever she’s in a relationship with. When she’s first with Amaranth, it’s all about psychedelics and weed and the idea that we’re all god. Andrew brings the internet element. Jason brought drugs, and together they had a Sid and Nancy mutually-enabling relationship.”
Just as meeting Jason peeled back an additional layer on Mother God, Olson gained a complete perspective shift when she interviewed Carlson’s children, whom the leader left behind when starting Love Has Won.
“I saw how this one person who had been deified by these people had actually caused so much pain to these kids. I was in the process of reporting when I was making the film, and it was wild for me to have my own perspective shift so much to see the complexity of Amy.”
The Death of the American Dream
More than a “cult doc,” Love Has Won tackles a variety of subjects, including the death of the American dream, but its biggest mystery is Amy Carlson herself. After all, as Olson points out, she was a female cult leader but her name wasn’t on the bank account (it was all in Archangel Michael/Miguel’s name—who also ended up turning in the cult to the authorities). What was Carlson looking for?
“It’s like the god-shaped hole we’re all trying to fill. It’s the void every addict is trying to fill. It’s the void that people who are searching for any kind of spiritual answers are trying to fill. It’s the void I feel and many others feel. But then on a systemic level, she’d been running her whole life from an abusive childhood, the exhaustion of a working-class life managing a McDonald’s where she was not able to make ends meet for her three children. In so many ways, the material circumstances of her reality were also not tenable. It’s the convergence of those two things: the spiritual void she was longing for and the untenable material reality that resulted in this tragedy.”
In the year following Carlson’s death, Olson stayed in touch with the surviving members to continue to piece together the story and pour over 2,700 live-stream videos. All of the followers still believe that Amy was god, and while Olson couldn’t relate to that belief, she did relate to them in another way.
“The way I found empathy for Amy and the followers was through that yearning that I share and so many people share. She wanted something more out of life.”
Love Has Won is streaming on MAX.