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Meet the DocuWeek Filmmakers: Amy Berg--'Deliver Us From Evil'

By IDA Editorial Staff

Over the next few weeks, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work will be represented in the DocuWeekTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, August 18-24. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films--the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Amy Berg, director/producer of Deliver Us From Evil.

Synopsis: Deliver Us from Evil is the story of Oliver O'Grady--the most notorious pedophile priest in the modern history of the Catholic Church--and an investigation into how he was allowed to forge a trail of destruction across northern California under the knowing eye of the church hierarchy for over 20 years.

IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Amy Berg: I got started through my career as journalist. I was producing investigative pieces for CBS News and CNN Investigations and there never seemed to be enough time to explore the whole story. The air date would come and there would still be unanswered questions. And, on top of that, each time we would get a new news director, the directive changed and the amount of time to tell stories seemed to get smaller and smaller. It was a daunting idea to tell a story for over an hour; the longest documentary story I had written and produced at the time was around 30 minutes, with the leisure of anchor tracks (for narration) and commercial breaks. But these small stories provided me with confidence and passion, and I felt I was moving towards documentary filmmaking every time a story aired.

IDA: What inspired you to make Deliver Us From Evil?

AB: I produced a story on church abuse and church cover-up for CNN Investigations in the summer of 2004. Oliver O'Grady's name kept popping up and it seemed to be a thorn in the church's side. Every detail I heard about him made me more interested as well as horrified. Thus, I was propelled to get his side of the story and see what kind of a person commits these types of crimes over and over again.

IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

AB: There was an obvious challenge in that I made the decision to explore the mind and sickness of a pedophile. My employer at the time did not want to put a pedophile on television. This challenge provided a series of thoughts and conversations, but I saw the educational benefits of his words and his version of the story. The most difficult challenge was maintaining boundaries and professional distance when the people in the film began to pour out their emotional sensitivities. The level of pain, deception and horror the victims of Oliver O'Grady became accustomed to made them very raw subjects, and they experienced confusion when they told their stories.
This story became quite intensive for me and the people closest to me in my life during this two-year period.

IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

AB: The vision stayed close to the same from the first 10 days I spent with O'Grady. It was almost like the story led me to its finished piece because O'Grady is so deceptively sentimental, earnest and (his version of) honest. His words led me to the people he abused and their words, so polar opposite to his depiction and disassociation.
But the contrast provided the layout for a great story. His victims were such very sympathetic and truly righteous souls whose lives had taken a different path in the course of meeting with Oliver O'Grady. But it was through the meeting with my editor that it was finally realized as he seemed to see my vision and understand it before he even looked at the footage. This was a great feat.

IDA: As you've screened Deliver Us From Evil--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

AB: The audience reaction so far has been very emotional, and almost universally one of outrage. The bishops and cardinals lie so calmly under oath about what they (didn't) know throughout the film that I wasn't sure that audiences would pick up on the hypocrisy so immediately and unwaveringly. With a complete dearth of passion and understanding shown by the Catholic officials who testify and appear throughout the film, it's extremely gratifying to have the audiences react with an abundance of passion and understanding.

IDA: In general, what docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

AB: I believe the most inspiring voices have been those whom I have documented in film and in investigative reports, those individuals courageous enough to share their stories in pursuit of the greater good.
But my inspiration in filmmaking comes more from filmmakers that seem to use cinema vérité style in their fictional features, like Stanley Kubrick, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Tomas Vinterberg, Alejandro Innaritu, Gus Van Sant, Lars Von Trier. That said, many of them have done documentary work in their careers.

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