Review by Sean Boelman
Documentarian Robert Greene has made several documentaries that have dealt with the intersection between artistic expression and societal issues. Procession has the potential to be something extraordinarily profound, but ends up aiming a bit too high to be able to juggle everything.
The film follows a group of survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests who come to turns with their trauma by creating short films. There have been plenty of movies to explore the idea of self-expression as a means of understanding oneself, but Greene’s approach here is extremely sympathetic and understanding.
In term of dealing with the very serious issue of sexual abuse within the church system, the film handles it very subtly. Although this is an issue that is much more widespread than one would like, Greene doesn’t treat these people merely like pieces in a puzzle, but rather, the individuals with unique traumas that they are.
This is obviously a very angry movie, particularly when it is exploring the injustices that these victims have faced and the way that the church has covered up a lot of these instances. But the feeling that dominates here is sadness, as Greene really dials in on the soul-crushing aspects of these stories.
That said, one can’t help but feel like the film tries to juggle too many perspectives. Although all six of the men have very powerful stories of recovering from their abuse, telling all of these stories together will inevitably result in audiences seeing the similarities between them, rather than the way in which their healing process is special.
It’s definitely interesting to see how these people used their art in such a constructive way, but we don’t necessarily get to see as much of it as could have been used. There seems to be just a few minutes of footage that was produced, resulting in some of it being repeated. There’s probably a reason for this, but it still feels like something is missing.
There are definitely a lot of amazing things going on in the movie behind the camera. It’s nice to see a film approaching this issue from a perspective that is less journalistic and more humanistic. As a result, Greene shoots the movie in a way that takes care to be warm and welcoming, but still can have an edge to it when necessary.
Procession is a really captivating film, and it handles its material quite sensitively. It isn’t quite as devastating as expected, but it is effective in creating a somber feeling overall and offers some profound observations.
Procession screened at the 2021 AFI FEST, which runs November 10-14.