‘Procession’ director Robert Greene on using drama therapy to help survivors of sexual abuse

Developing “Procession” came in two parts for Robert Greene. First was the discovery of how trauma can be dealt with. “I read a book about how trauma is stored in the body and the muscles and talk therapy has only so much of an effect. Drama therapy is one method for working through trauma and effectively,” he tells Gold Derby during our recent Meet the Experts: Film Documentary panel (watch the exclusive video above). At the same time he was reading this, by chance, he came upon the people that would be the subjects for his documentary. “Right when I was having this knowledge, I saw the press conference that opens ‘Procession’ with the six men that we ultimately ended up working with.”

“Procession,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, looks at six adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and an attempt to use drama therapy to help them manage their trauma. Each of the survivors writes a script and the group helps act each one out. What’s portrayed in these filmed pieces is as varied as the six people making them. Some do present a sanitized version of their experience being molested. Others use it as a chance to confront their abusers or those that enabled them and others try to use it as an opportunity to send a message to their younger selves.

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To start the process of getting these survivors to participate, Greene first went through the lawyer who had represented them, Rebecca Randles, and asked if she thought making the movie was a good idea. “That started a series of conversations with Rebecca and those discussions went on for months. She brought in a clinical psychologist to see if this was even a feasible idea.” Greene also received input from several drama therapy groups. “They shot down early versions of the idea, saying you can’t really do therapy on screen. So what we actually ended up doing is the film is very much influenced by drama therapy but it’s not strict drama therapy.”

One of the most striking scenes in the film happens in the middle of shooting when one of the survivors, Tom, is playing a priest in the scene and notices that there is a lock on the inside of the confessional door. “What was remarkable was by that point in the process, we say, ‘Hey, let’s shut this down. Are you okay?’ You later see Tom literally say, ‘No, I need to take this. I need to do this now.” One of the other survivors helped Tom get through it by telling him to use the anger from that lock to perform the scene. “They could feel the weight of that detail because of what happened to them and turn it into this creative invention in the moment that was just absolutely incredible.”

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