Friday, September 22, 2006

 

Documentary ‘Deliver Us From Evil’ faces ratings controversy


Amy Berg’s years of experience producing news segments for CBS, ABC and CNN help explain the matter-of-fact style, precise, face-the-camera interviews and well-informed backdrop of her feature documentary debut “Deliver Us From Evil.” What separates Berg’s first film from her broadcast work is its controversial subject, Father Oliver O’Grady (pictured above), a Catholic priest guilty of raping and abusing numerous children throughout Northern California. Actually, O’Grady’s story is one Berg might have covered for one of the network news divisions. But she never would have been given the room to tell the stories of the families devastated by O’Grady’s crimes. More importantly, the network news outlets would have forced Berg to sensationalize the story. Instead, with “Deliver Us From Evil,” she recounts O’Grady’s horrors with an even hand and a steady recounting of how this abusive priest was left alone by his church superiors.
There are moments in the film’s first half when it feels like Berg might be retelling events with too much restraint, although the pace quickens late into the movie as O’Grady’s victims attempt to take their tale to the Vatican.
Still, it’s surprising that a documentary as fair and balanced as “Deliver Us From Evil” received a red band or restrictive rating for its trailer from the Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA). Granted, the film’s subject, a pedophile priest left unpunished by the Catholic Church for close to thirty years, is for adult audiences only. But it’s clear the MPAA has not watched the film. If they had, they would be impressed by Berg’s thoughtful, restrained handling of her subjects and the thought of branding the film with a NC-17 rating would never cross their minds.
A red band trailer for "Deliver Us From Evil" means it can only play before Rated R and NC-17 movies; something that severely limits its marketing reach. It’s also fair to say that staffers at Lionsgate, the film’s distributor, acted proactively by deciding to release “Deliver Us From Evil” without a rating. Why take a chance on a NC-17 ruling, although the publicity could only help the film. With the MPAA out of the picture, what remains is convincing theater operators that this compelling documentary deserves a chance to impact audiences with a tough story that won’t go away.

Deliver Us From Evil premiered at film festivals earlier this year including the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Lionsgate Films will release it in theaters across America on Oct. 13.

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