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Six former child sexual-abuse victims of the Catholic Church attempt a “drama therapy” healing experiment as adults. The documentary tracks their efforts to literally recreate the “nightmares” of their childhoods in an effort to tell the story of all abuse victims in a different way.
Directed by Robert Greene (Bisbee ’17); produced by Susan Bedusa, Bennett Elliott, and Douglas Tirola; music by Keegan DeWitt (All the Bright Places); starring Joe Eldred, Mike Foreman, Ed Gavagan, Dan Laurine, Michael Sandridge, and Tom Viviano as themselves.
What immediately springs to mind while watching Procession is the 2003 Danish documentary The Five Obstructions. But where the latter is a game of authorship, the former is a labor of authorship. Procession asks, “Whose story gets told? And how and when and through what lens of history?” The six subjects of the film bravely take part in drama therapy–a method of acting out one’s trauma for objective healing–as a means to also change the narrative surrounding child sexual/religious abuse.
Trust is a monumentally huge part of this documentary. Not only must the six real-life survivors of sexual abuse put their trust in the audience–that they won’t judge them for their emotional reactions or their recreations of painful memories–but they also had to trust that the documentary filmmakers wouldn’t push them so far as to be potentially re-traumatized for entertainment purposes. Several of the victims even took on the role of their Catholic priest that abused them, with a real-life adolescent likewise acting as them. It’s such a fragile narrative from all points of view and, apart from a lone location scene snafu, the film traverses those complexities with grace.
The visual recreations themselves are just fascinating to watch. We are invited into their worst experiences, but with a very clear thematic (and yes, cinematic) intent. For example, take the enactment where the young boy is running up to the church’s rafters and, in a snap, the entire congregation turns to look at him. The moment is so expressive of feeling abandoned in plain sight that I can truly think of no comparison as poignant. This applies also to their documented journey of making the film. When one of the men rings the bell at his childhood church in Wyoming, the joy on his face is moving precisely because we know what that moment has cost him as well.
Without a doubt, Procession is a true testament to the enduring strength of sexual abuse survivors, as well as a severe condemnation of the corrupt systems that traumatized and continue to traumatize them. These men bared their souls at great emotional risk to themselves, but I don’t doubt that their willingness to heal will inspire others to do so as well.
Experimental, controversial, and heartbreaking. Procession hammers home the necessity of reclaiming one’s own story from the grips of time and those who don’t wish to hear it. The courage of the survivors’ participation is truly awe-inspiring to witness.
It is important for those who want to watch to do so with a trusted friend or family member. The reenacted scenes do not show the actual disturbing acts by priests—only the implication of what would happen later—but that’s disturbing enough.
Trigger warning: Obviously, the documentary discusses emotional, religious, and sexual trauma that might be triggering for some viewers.