At Venice, sex abuse by priests back in focus with Spotlight

  • AP, Venice
  • Updated: Sep 09, 2015 10:51 IST
American Thomas McCarthy (centre), actor Mark Ruffalo and actor Stanley Tucci (left) pose during the photocall of the movie Spotlight presented out of competition at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2015 at Venice Lido. (AFP)

Thomas McCarthy's new film Spotlight is set to create ripples in Catholic Italy as it premiered at the ongoing Venice Film Festival on Thursday. The film delves into sexual abuse by priests and its cover-up by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Boston. And the American director is keen that the pope sees his fact-based film.

The movie, which stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams as Boston Globe reporters and Stanley Tucci as a campaigning lawyer, premieres Thursday at the Venice Film Festival.

McCarthy said he was excited and apprehensive about holding the film's public debut in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy - though he doesn't expect to be getting rave reviews from the church.

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"I expect no reaction" from the Vatican, he said. "I would love to be proven wrong. ... I would love the pope to see this."

The movie dramatizes the work of the Globe's Spotlight investigative team, which won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing how the Boston archdiocese covered up child abuse by scores of priests over several decades.

Drawing on interviews with real-life journalists and abuse survivors, it's a powerful and subtle look at how evil can thrive in communities full of decent, well-meaning people. In heavily Catholic, close-knit Boston, victims' families, police officers, lawyers and journalists all knew about abuse -- but few spoke out.

Watch the trailer of Spotlight here:

"It's not just the church," Ruffalo told The Associated Press. "It's police and the legislative body, it's the politicians, it's the power structure of Boston. It goes so deep into the community and it's us. It's all of us."

Since the Globe published its stories in 2002, clerical abuse scandals have erupted from Iowa to Ireland -- in most cases breaking decades of silence.

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"A lot of it has to do with shame," Tucci said. "The church being ashamed that this is happening and they tuck the priests away. The victims being ashamed and the families of the victims being ashamed. It just creates this terrible world of secrets and lies."

Tucci - raised a Catholic though not a "true believer" - says it's "a huge thing" that Francis has spoken out on the issue, vowing to punish abusive priests and hold church authorities to account for failing to protect children.

But McCarthy, an actor-director whose previous films include The Station Agent, thinks the church will change only slowly, despite Francis' good intentions.

The film shows how then Boston archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in disgrace when the Globe revealed he had covered up for child rapists -- only to be given a plum assignment at one of the Vatican's major basilicas by the late Pope John Paul II.

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"You go in and take over the reins of an institution like that and sometimes the best of intentions fall short," McCarthy said. "So we'll see."

Spotlight joins a relatively short list of films to feature realistic journalists as heroes. Not since the 1976 Watergate drama All The President's Men has a movie so convincingly depicted the unglamorous reality of reporting -- digging through records, attending court hearings, patiently pursuing reluctant sources.

The film's setting in 2001 and 2002 - before the digital revolution swept the media - gives it the feel of an elegy for the era of print newspapers.

McCarthy, who played a reporter on HBO's The Wire, said working on the TV series "made me aware of the dire straits of journalism in America" and the shrinking of newspapers like the Boston Globe, whose vast and partially empty offices were used for some scenes in Spotlight.

"Serious, professional journalism -- that industry has been decimated in our country," McCarthy said. "Citizen journalists can't solve these problems. They can tweet about it, put it on their Facebook page, if they know. But do they have weeks and months to spend at courthouses, following cops, interviewing people? No."

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