Six midwestern men — all survivors of childhood sexual assault at the hands of Catholic priests and clergy — come together to direct a drama therapy-inspired experiment designed to collectively work through their trauma. As part of a radically collaborative filmmaking process, they create fictional scenes based on memories, dreams and experiences, meant to explore the church rituals, culture and hierarchies that enabled silence around their abuse. In the face of a failed legal system, we watch these men reclaim the spaces that allowed their assault, revealing the possibility for catharsis and redemption through a new-found fraternity.
As one of the men says, “SPOTLIGHT was about trying to get in from the outside. In our film, we’re trying to get out.”
Monica Phinney, Drama Therapist
Monica Phinney is a Registered Drama Therapist from Kansas City. She has a background in sexual and domestic violence, and experience using nonfiction storytelling to achieve therapeutic goals for survivors and witnesses. Monica joined our team in a consulting role to provide guidance throughout the making of the film.
Pulling inspiration from the field of drama therapy, she sought to provide insight into the potential risks and benefits that accompany each stage of the creative process, in the hopes that all involved would experience healing through this project. Monica is a crucial voice in the room, helping these men safely work through the creative process, while gently helping them use filmmaking in a meaningfully therapeutic way.
Monica offers healing workshops through the creative arts, individual creative wellness coaching, consultation for film and theatre, guest lectures/ public speaking, and supervision for new drama therapists in North America.
Betrayed by both the civil and ecclesiastical justice systems, six men who were abused by Catholic priests band together with a documentary crew and a team of therapists to try something new to address both their trauma and the abuses of the church. Joe Eldred, Mike Foreman, Ed Gavagan, Dan Laurine, Michael Sandridge and Tom Viviano gather in Kansas City, Missouri – where much of the abuse happened – to make their stand.
PROCESSION is the seventh feature documentary film by Sundance award winning director Robert Greene, made with a team largely comprised of people he’s worked with for well over a decade. It was made in close consultation with these six men and with the support of professional therapists. The film is a radical experiment in therapeutic collaborative filmmaking.
With the guidance of Monica Phinney, a trained drama therapist with a background in sexual assault prevention and education, the filmmakers co-create staged scenes that depict the power of the church with Ed, Michael, Joe and Mike. Dan, a locations scout who is also a survivor, fights through his own battles to revisit Catholic churches and places of abuse that the guys want to use for their scenes. Meanwhile Tom, another survivor, takes his own emotional risks to act in these scenes.
The goal of creating these scenes is twofold. First, these men are hoping to work through their own traumas together in this new-found brotherhood, which includes them conquering fears associated with actual places of abuse. Second, they’re hoping to help
others understand the ways the Catholic Church has used its imagery, rituals, and claims of divine authority to diminish and discredit those they have hurt. They’re effectively repurposing Catholic symbols and rituals in order to take back the power from them.
Dan finds himself moving from locations manager and supporter to someone who needs to conquer his own demons. Michael has to face the fact that the site of his abuse has been torn down, so he tries to find peace by helping the others. Joe is trying to get rid of the terrifying dreams that have haunted him for years. Mike is trying to focus his anger on something creative and productive. Tom, who can’t address his own story because of the legal complexities of his case, decides to act in scenes, to lend support however he can. Meanwhile Ed is creating his scenes while also fighting for justice in a pending criminal case against his abuser. This case is of crucial interest to the Vatican as well, because the bishop that assaulted Ed would be the highest-ranking American cleric ever charged with a crime.
The men collectively decide to cast an actor, a local performer named Terrick Trobough, to represent them across all of the scenes. The creative process – and the documentary camera itself – enables a shining of light into the darkness.