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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Twist of Faith" (2004)

Filmmaker Kirby Dick achieves something quite extraordinary with his documentary “Twist of Faith.” By handing some cameras over to his subjects, he has effectively cut himself out of a big part of the production process. By letting his subjects film themselves when they feel a need to confess something, he has entrusted his own movie in a way that would make most documentary filmmakers slightly uncomfortable. This method results in a startlingly intimate and daring documentary that makes the audience feel as though they should not really be watching, but you can’t help it. We’re on the receiving end of the confessional and damn if we can’t walk away.

The movie has us from the get-go. In the simplest of terms, the movie has a hell of a hook in its story. A hardworking firefighter and family man, Tony Comes has just moved into a new house in Toledo, Ohio with his wife and children. We learn about Tony’s troubled past early on. A priest named Dennis Gray molested him at a summer camp and Tony has been living with the scars of the repeated incidents all his life. Now, Tony’s past comes back to haunt him. Dennis Gray lives only five doors down from Tony and his family.

As viewers, we wait for a conflict between the two, a chance run-in, but “Twist of Faith” has a higher purpose. Tony and his wife, Wendy, wait until the late hours to tell us their secrets about how the incident of Tony’s youth has affected their lives, how it has put a strain on their marriage and how it has affected their faith in the Catholic church. The Comes family still attend and their daughter is about to have her first communion. Can Tony bring himself to even enter the church now that he has seen how corrupt it has become?

Tony’s friends from camp also come out as victims of similar incidents. The three of them hang out together and talk as though they had been to war and back. We learn of many more victims in Toledo and their demand for justice. The case against Dennis Gray and many others in the Archdiocese starts getting national attention. We even see Dennis Gray being questioned by lawyers and being very up-front, stoic and remorseless with his answers. At one point, he says that he does not believe his actions have caused irreparable harm.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church denies everything and Tony and his friends still have nightmares about Dennis Gray. A local bishop stands firm that no one else has ever claimed to have any problems with Dennis Gray. A support group called SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has helped people come out and openly discuss and confront the abuse done to them by other priests. Tony keeps fighting the church, tension rises in his family and the questions of one’s own faith and belief in God get put to the test.

This test makes for a fascinating documentary in and of itself. At one point, Tony asks us that without God to turn to, where does one go when life deals you its worst hand? Where does one go for prayer, for guidance and to confess? Tony and his family have remained Catholics, but the more the church denies the allegations against them, the more Tony sees his personal faith dwindling. It seems as though he talks more to us than to God. He keeps the camera rolling. He keeps it with him late at night even when he has little to say. The scars run so deep that he never ponders the idea of a search for a new kind of enlightenment.

“Twist of Faith” does not just tell the story of a man who wants justice, but of a man on the verge of losing his religion entirely. It will make you angry, make you very sad and make you wince. Like Steve James’ “Stevie” and Andrew Jarecki’s “Capturing the Friedmans,” Kirby Dick’s movie uses the medium to break down the barriers between the subject and the audience for a topic that lends itself to dark secrecy. It’s almost too devastating to watch, but you have to. Like many others in his situation, Tony Comes needs as many ears that will listen to him as he can get. The more people see this movie, the better our world will be.

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