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Irish/US film on Church child abuse selected for Oscar shortlist

The film examines the story of four men who were abused as boys in a school for the deaf in the USA.

AN IRISH/US film on child abuse by a Catholic priest in an American school for the deaf has been selected for the Oscar nomination shortlist.

The documentary film, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God was directed by Oscar winning director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), with funding from Bord Scannán na hÉireann/ the Irish Film Board (IFB).

It was produced by Jigsaw Productions, Wider Film Projects and Trevor Birney and Ruth O’Reilly of Below the Radar Films. The film will be shown on HBO in the US in January 2013, and released in Irish cinemas in 2013.

It has been shortlisted for an Academy Award® nomination in the Best Documentary Feature category.

Clerical abuse

Filmed in Ireland, the US, and Italy and shot by Lisa Rinzler and Irish documentary filmmaker Ross McDonnell (Colony), Mea Maximum Culpa: Silence in the House of God explores the issue of abuse within the Catholic Church, following a trail from the first known protest against clerical abuse in the United States and all way to the Vatican.


(tiff./YouTube)

The film has already picked up the Grierson Award for Best Documentary at the BFI London Film Festival in October, along with its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The Irish members of the team included Eimhear O’Neill of Below the Radar productions, which was co-founded by the film’s producers Birney and O’Reilly. O’Neill worked as associate producer on the film. “The team are very proud and honoured to be among the 15 films shortlisted, all of which are tremendous documentaries,” she told TheJournal.ie. “We’re hoping for the best.”

She said they were proud of the four men in the film “who courageously spoke out for the first time.” They were responsible for launching the first public attempt to expose clerical sex abuse in the USA, and their stories are told in the film. They were abused by Father Lawrence Murphy at a school for the deaf from the 1950s.

O’Neill said that the team remained balanced and objective when telling the men’s story. “In no way it is an attack on religion,” she said of the film. “The story is about crime, and about an abuse of power.”

The relationship between Below the Radar and Gibney developed a number of years ago, and was further strengthened when O’Neill won a place on the Alex Gibney Training Programme, during which she worked with his team in New York. “It has been a pleasure and delight working with him. It was a dream come true for me to work with someone like Alex,” said O’Neill.

Filming

After the Irish Film Board provided some funding, Below the Radar came on board as a co-producer. The film is mainly set in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, where the abuse occurred, but they also filmed in Ireland and Italy.

The film explores Ireland’s history with the Catholic Church and the abuse scandals that occurred here, using archive footage to show how the abuse stories emerged in Ireland, at a similar time to when they were emerging in the US.

“”It’s through [the men's] story that we follow the cover up from America to Ireland, to the highest office in the Vatican,” explained O’Neill. “I think people are quite surprised that this was happening at the same time at different parts of the globe.”

A still from the film

With its focus on religion, there may be fears that the film could attract criticism. “There’s always going to be some people who are critical,” said O’Neill. “We did extensive research. As Alex says, it is not an attack on religion at all, it is a crime story.”

There are no subtitles in the film – the men use sign language and an actor speaks their words, which O’Neill said adds to their depiction of their traumatic experiences.

The shortlisting for an Oscar nomination has made the team behind the film happy, but O’Neill said they are proud “that four brave men and their stories are finally being heard and listened to for the first time” as word spreads about the film.

We just hope we do a good job for those men.

Read: Clerical abuse ‘remains a mystery’, says Pope Benedict XVI>

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