Director: Robert Greene
An anonymous double-garage with its wide door closed. Slowly it opens, sliding up to reveal… boxes. Boxes atop boxes. As high as the ceiling, as deep as the garage goes, so it seems. These are case files. Sexual abuse case files.
The Catholic church’s unending connection to pedophiliac horror stories isn’t funny anymore. Not that it ever really was. But that hasn’t stopped it becoming the punchline of so many standup routines and panel show gags. Perhaps not out of cruelty, but as a reflex action. The ever-presence of such revelations is as good a litmus test as any of the church’s inability to progress or even discipline itself; as corrupt an institution as any other, but with such a morbidly perverse predilection that it almost defies belief. Perhaps that’s why it perpetuates in such astonishing numbers. Enough, in Kansas alone, to fill one solicitor’s double garage with boxes. Boxes of lives.
Robert Greene’s prior interest in both performance and complex psychological conundrums (see docs Actress and Kate Plays Christine) positions him as qualified to probe further into this unsavory territory, and particularly from such a unique perspective. His work is often bereft of sensationalism, instead itemising the banal invisibility of trauma. The dullness of suffering unrecognised by others. Procession blurs the lines between documentary and reconstruction, casting survivors as actors in dramatisations of their own all-too-common cases.
In August of 2018, Greene saw a press conference in which a group of survivors addressed over 230 cases in one Kansas county alone. Greene reached out to this community to make this film.
Perhaps what surprises the most is the humour in the piece, particularly from the performers; members of a trauma therapy group already versed in the machinations of roleplay. Theatre is just one of the tools involved in providing an outlet for unreconciled emotions. By partaking in this film, each is contributing to their own self-empowerment. Tearfully, one of the men likens their mission to Marvel’s Avengers, citing the piece as their own Thor’s hammer. Greene, acknowledging this, credits them all as co-creators of the finished film.
It’s more than just a gesture. The group (all men in their 40s through 60s) steer the content of the piece, write their own scripts, workshop its content. As a result, Procession is a film that documents its own making; a carryover from Greene’s last film Kate Plays Christine, but also something it shares with a great tradition of movies about moviemaking. About creation. About collaboration.
It is also a progression – or maybe even an inversion – of Kate Plays Christine. Where that film followed actor Kate Lyn Sheil as she tried to inhabit the mindset of suicidal newscaster Christine Chubbuck, here Greene has extant survivors re-inhabiting their own experiences. In the process his film connects to the likes of Samira Makhmalbaf’s The Apple, and Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn’s The Act of Killing. One senses the hope that the act of provocation will similarly allow new breakthroughs for those involved. That it will be a creative act of rebirth and renewal. A bringer of change.
Decisions made between survivors interrogate the responsibilities of filmmaking, interrogate the artistic value of certain choices and representations. In doing so they inadvertently critique both Greene’s act of documenting, and also the wider parameters of filmmaking. Many of the conversations that occur here could be exploded out to how violence and vengeance are depicted in cinema. Particularly but not exclusively within rape-revenge cinema.
The scenes they create, ultimately, are strangely – but understandably – dissociative. Unnatural lighting dominates. Sickly bleeds of red and green redolent of horror movies, expressive of extreme emotion. Or else they’re fragmented. Made up of pieces of information, snatched and collaged, or whitewashed, as if the whole is too much. Only one explodes into a tirade of expletive Tarantino-style fury and no-one touches the acts of abuse themselves. Watching these creators welling up as they shoot is raw to see. Their varying recreations are evidently close enough to the bone. That one prominently features a confessional is nakedly self-reflexive.
The film also prods at the fallibility of memory. A good portion of the second hour is taken up by two of the men searching, with increasing frustration, for a place that isn’t where they thought it would be. The local landmarks have all changed and the people they stop and talk to lead them this way and that. It’s like watching them chase their own memories down the interior avenues of the mind. That great inescapable labyrinth that has the power to warp and distort.
“We didn’t come here before did we?” one asks the other, as one would when reliving a trauma that insists on replaying itself. One of their cohorts quite insightfully questions whether they truly want to reach their destination or not. When familiarity does finally assert itself, the reaction is revelatory. There’s no map to where these men are now.
In one of the film’s most bittersweet moments, one of the survivors counts up, “eleven accusations? That’s enough”, as though this will, finally, be the end of it. That this belief – this wish – is wholly unbelievable in the context of our present world speaks to the anger-inducing futility ever-present in this ongoing and commonplace crisis.