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Published: Friday, 1/14/2005

Toledo sex-abuse scandal a big-screen documentary

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tony Comes, who claimed in a 2002 lawsuit that he was molested by a priest during the 1980s, says he plans to attend the film festival and talk with audiences and the press. Tony Comes, who claimed in a 2002 lawsuit that he was molested by a priest during the 1980s, says he plans to attend the film festival and talk with audiences and the press.
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The good news: Toledo is hitting Sundance.

The bad news: It might not be the way you'd like.

When the Sundance Film Festival kicks off Thursday in Park City, Utah, one of the premieres will be Twist of Faith, a documentary recounting the sex abuse scandals that erupted in the Toledo Catholic Diocese in 2002. The filmmaker is the well-regarded director Kirby Dick, and his film isn't just debuting.

It'll be playing in the American Documentary competition - generally considered the strongest segment of Sundance, the long-running, hype-screeching showcase for independent filmmaking founded by Robert Redford in the early 1980s. Its competition includes documentaries about Chinese factory workers, glam-rock legends the New York Dolls, and Enron. It's set to air later this year on HBO.

And that's not all:

Twist of Faith also is on the shortlist for a best documentary nomination at the Academy Awards. Of the hundreds of nonfiction films screened by the Academy, a list of 12 possible nominees is drawn up; this year, that includes the hit fast-food expos Super Size Me, the climbing adventure Touching the Void, as well as Twist of Faith. From this list, five nominees are picked - and set to be announced Jan. 25.

As for the movie itself:

Mr. Dick - who's made films for HBO in the past and is best-known for the acclaimed 1997 documentary The Life and Death of Bobby Flanagan, Supermasochist - focuses on the story of Tony Comes, a Toledo firefighter who filed a lawsuit in 2002 alleging he was sexually molested by former Toledo priest Dennis Gray.

According to Caroline Libresco, a senior programmer with Sundance, Twist of Faith was one of 16 documentaries chosen from a pool of 750 submissions.

"It's one of the first films to deal with this," she said. "We felt it was incredibly consummate and a deeply probing look at a national issue, but it's told through this one Toledo firefighter's struggle. I think you come away from the film understanding who the actual individuals are involved, and Tony, as a subject, is really just riveting."

Sally Oberski, a spokesman for the diocese, said the diocese wouldn't have a reaction until they've seen the film.

Mr. Dick - who said he didn't want to comment on the film until it screens at the festival - will be shopping Twist of Faith around the festival in hopes of having it picked up for a possible theatrical release.

The reason is obvious: Ever since sex, lies, and videotape was sold at Sundance in 1989, and went on to help launch the independent film movement of the 1990s, the festival has been a key to the success of smaller, off-Hollywood releases. Among the hits that have premiered at Sundance: Napoleon Dynamite, The Blair Witch Project, and Michael Moore's first film, Roger & Me.

Although Twist of Faith hasn't screened for critics yet, Mr. Dick and producer Eddie Schmidt, who are based in Los Angeles, flew to Toledo earlier this week to show the completed documentary to Mr. Comes - who says he didn't get paid for his involvement, and plans to attend Sundance and talk with audiences and press.

"It was extremely hard to watch," Mr. Comes said. "Seeing yourself from the outside in - that's hard. There were depositions in there I was unaware of, and commentary from other victims that I found really interesting. This would have been unfathomable to me two years ago. And really now, it's just kind of a lot to digest at the moment."

Contact Christopher Borrelli at

cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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