In Kansas City, six men who were sexually abused by Catholic priests as children collaborate with a film crew to tell their stories — but not in the way you might think. They don’t act as talking heads in the manner of a traditional documentary, nor is this a fictional adaptation of their lives. Rather, Procession centers the men as they embark on creative interpretations of their experiences. Inspired by drama therapy and supervised by multiple therapists, the production sought to let the men use filmmaking to seek catharsis and healing, and reclaim some measure of agency they felt had been taken away from them by their abusers and the church.
Joe Eldred, Mike Foreman, Ed Gavagan, and Michael Sandridge each craft dramatic sequences inspired by their pasts. For example, Foreman wants to reclaim his humiliating experience before an independent review board which called him “not credible,” while Eldred wants to exorcise the terrible dreams he’s been having. Dan Laurine, an experienced location scout for media production, uses the process to battle his lingering hesitation to visit places of worship. Tom Viviano, legally forbidden from making any public accusations, simply wants to assist the others however he can. Helping them is director Robert Greene, who is well versed in making heavily collaborative films which interrogate the nature of performance. Bisbee ’17, for example, had an entire town recreate a dark episode in its history, and at the same time sought the participants’ thoughts on that history. Procession deepens that practice by giving its subjects a high level of control in shaping where it goes. This is part of an exciting wave of documentaries exploring the role of performance in therapy and healing, seen in films like Srbenka and Island of the Hungry Ghosts. The approach’s implementation here marks its most high-profile appearance yet, and the producers hope it can serve as a guiding example for other creators.