Kirby Dick’s documentary TWIST OF FAITH is a very fine work, although perhaps not quite as atmospheric as these screen-shots suggest. In fact, since he gives cameras to two of his central characters, professional polish in the filmmaking is rather beside the point, although actually the really evocative images often come from this footage. But KD unfolds his story with enormous assuredness and patience, and he seems to have discovered the most compelling way in to the ongoing saga of child abuse by Catholic priests.
His protagonist is a firefighter, sexually molested at age 14 by his priest. Despite this trauma, he’s built a good life for himself, his wife and two kids. Then he buys a new house and discovers that his former abuser lives five doors down. The wound is reopened, and there’s now the necessity to do something about it — he can’t have this man as a neighbour, after all. But, assured by his bishop that no other allegations of abuse have been made, it seems he’s powerless.
Then it transpires that there are in fact over a dozen other allegations, which the bishop was apparently sitting on — frustratingly, the guy dies before he can be made to explain himself (and, it is to be hoped, goes directly to Hell). Our brave hero launches a class action against the church, but he’s up against impossible odds — the Church is unbelievably rich, and apparently determined to admit no wrongdoing. Our man’s wife, who converted to Catholicism when they married, doesn’t want him to leave the Church, his childhood friends are more concerned that his faith might be in danger than about the ordeal he’s going through in the search for justice, and even his mother would seemingly prefer he just forgot about it.
The film is pretty sympathetic to everybody except the abusers themselves, and those who covered for them, but it’s hard not to resent the ineffective support group surrounding this beleaguered man — people who should care most for him, but who are so devoted to their faith that they will put his suffering second to the authority of the very institution which abused, and continues to abuse him.
Watched this with Fiona and Mary Gordon, a documentarist and former accommodation office for the Edinburgh Film Festival. Mary has her own way of ranking filmmakers, not just on cinematic merit, but also on how easy-going they were about their accommodation (Filmmakers beware! The Accommodation Officer sees all!). Kirby Dick fell somewhat short of her standards, though he was by no means the worst case she’s had to deal with, but I think by the end of this impressive and moving work, she was ready to forgive. For my part, when I attempted a fumbling and ill-equipped interview with Mr Dick last year, I found him to be patience and good grace personified.
Buy KD here: This Film Is Not Yet Rated