‘Twist of Faith’ examines nuance in news story
This week, a slice of reality will visit Park City with the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Series. While some docs can entertain and others can charm, "Twist of Faith" does neither, focusing instead upon the details and nuances of one man’s very painful experience.
"Twist of Faith" returns to Park City after premiering in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Since then, the film has aired on HBO and earned a 2005 Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Eddie Schmidt have also produced another effort, the 2006 Sundance Film Festival film "This Film Is Not Yet Rated."
But this Thursday, Schmidt will take some time to return to Park City with "Twist of Faith." It screens at 7 p.m. in the Jim Santy Auditorium.
According to Schmidt, the idea for the film came together when the widespread allegations of abuse by Catholic priests found their way into the headlines. Looking to put a face on this issue, Dick and Schmidt found firefighter Tony Comes, a Toledo, Ohio, man who was abused by his high school teacher, a priest, at the age of 14. With footage of Comes, including his family, friends and experiences, "Twist of Faith" shows how the abuse has affected his life.
"Kirby and I basically set out with the intention of making a well-rounded and in-depth portrait of sexual abuse," said Schmidt.
While the news stories and statistics told the larger story of the priest abuse scandals, Schmidt noted, most of the coverage failed to drive home the more human side of the story.
"It didn’t report the sum effect it (the abuse) had on a person’s life," he said.
"It was very important to us that you really put yourself in Tony’s shoes."
In "Twist of Faith" Comes is perpetually down-to-earth and almost always honest, outlining how the sexual abuse has affected him, talking to his wife, meeting other victims and working with his lawyer.
He is forced to come to terms with his abuse when, after moving to a new neighborhood with his wife and children, he discovers that his abuser lives five doors down the street.
Schmidt said he and Dick first heard about Comes through Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a support organization for survivors of sexual abuse by priests. Just a few days after they met him, in December of 2002, Schmidt and Dick began filming.
With a combination of interviews, TV news clips, and footage Comes had shot previously on his own, Schmidt and Dick follow the firefighter as he deals with the effects of his abuse, files a lawsuit against the Catholic Church’s Toledo diocese, meets with other men who had been abused by the same priest and tries to lead a life with some semblance of normalcy. Throughout the film, Schmidt is forced to face his past and its painful, frightening and continuing effects at almost every turn.
The package of a man’s life and so many powerful emotions and difficult issues, along with a church determined to bury the past is a powerful one.
"I’ve seen people react very emotionally and very positively," said Schmidt. "Because it personalizes a news story, people come out of it wanting to know how they can change things."
But the Catholic church, which opposes Comes’ efforts to seek restitution, justice, and an admission of wrongdoing, resists institutional change, and for the most part refuses to accept full responsibility, leaving in place many of the practices that made the abuse possible.
However, Schmidt, who grew up Catholic, noted that the film doesn’t advocate any opposition to Catholicism. Indeed, the film never seems to comment on the religion, focusing instead upon its organization.
"It’s not an anti-Catholic film," Schmidt said. "But it makes people in the Catholic church able to have a dialogue with their church."
"Hopefully it equips people to change things."
Schmidt did say, though, that the film has managed to make a significant difference in at least one place a slightly surprising one, he added.
"What we didn’t expect was what a positive effect it (the film) would have on Tony’s life," said Schmidt.
While such films almost invariably aim to spur some kind of change, he noted, they can be difficult on their subjects. But "Twist of Faith" has given Comes a purpose, of sorts.
"He’s become an activist; he’s become a spokesman for this movement (against priest abuse and for transparency in the Catholic Church)," said Schmidt.
So, while he brings a difficult and painful story to Park City, in Comes, the film does have a happy ending, of sorts.
"It seems to have had an extremely positive effect on him," said Schmidt. "He really has gotten his due as someone who speaks in a very articulate way about his experience."
"Twist of Faith" will screen at the Jim Santy Auditorium as part of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Series, presented by the Sundance Institute and the Park City Film Series at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 4. The screening is free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityfilmseries.com.
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