Paige Tolmach Interview: ‘What Haunts Us’ director
“This is a story about my hometown,” reveals Paige Tolmach about “What Haunts Us.” “It’s about my school, my community, my friends, and it was a hard thing to make because of that.” Tolmach made her directorial debut with this documentary about the long history of sexual abuse at her Charleston, SC, high school. She now competes at the Emmys for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. Watch our exclusive video interview with Tolmach above.
The film tells the disturbing true story of Eddie Fischer, a teacher and coach at Porter Gaud School who molested dozens of boys throughout his tenure. Despite alarming evidence of abuse, the faculty and townspeople largely looked the other way. And like many abusive Catholic priests who were transferred from diocese to diocese to shield them from consequences, Fischer was eventually allowed to resign and begin teaching at another school.
Fischer was finally arrested and convicted due in large part to the dogged persistence of one of his victims, Guerry Glover. Tolmach attended Porter Gaud while Fischer was still teaching there, so she was compelled to return to her hometown to uncover the history of silence and complicity that allowed these crimes to persist for so long.
“This is a story that must’ve been sitting with me forever,” Tolmach admits, “but it didn’t really strike me until I became a mom … When you become a parent, the world starts to look like a really different place.” When she learned about the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State University she recognized the eerie parallels to Fischer’s case.
That made her realize that she didn’t know how to protect her own son from a predator. “No one ever talks about that,” she explains. “So I realized I hadn’t learned anything from … the horrible things that had happened at my school.” That’s why she was determined to “go on a journey to understand what happened in my past, and how it was allowed to happen, in order to protect my son in the present.”