Procession is an Essential Documentary
Procession is neither a traditional documentary nor a radical departure in form that those familiar with Robert Greene’s work may expect. Instead, it works as a unified behind-the-scenes look of five of the most moving short films that you’ll likely never see in full. Greene shares authorship with six men who tell their own stories of abuse at the hands of Catholic priests: Tom Viviano, Joe Eldred, Michael Sandridge, Mike Foreman, Ed Gavagan, and Dan Laurine.
Unlike most documentarians, Greene doesn’t seem interested in “telling the stories of…” Finishing that sentence has been the work of hundreds of documentarians before him, but Greene is more focused on giving these six men the tools to tell their own stories. In partnership with a dramatic therapist and a prominent lawyer who the six men share in common, Greene convenes these men – all middle-aged or beyond, their literal physical abuse occurring decades ago, though the systemic and bureaucratic trauma heaped on them continues to this day – to facilitate a dramatic return.
For some, it’s a simple retelling of their abuse. For others, it’s a version that recreates a moment but enhances their agency. For one, it’s an opportunity to become the superhero he so desperately craved as a young boy. Neither Greene nor the therapist attempts to exert any influence over the specific story chosen. Instead, they work with these men – and with a brave, empathetic young actor, Terrick Trobough, who portrays the younger version of each survivor – to stage their short films, and, when possible, exorcise at least a few demons.
More than anything, Procession documents the most courageous acts I have seen on film in years. Decades removed from an overwhelmingly stigmatizing trauma for middle-aged men, each of them shows unquestionable fearlessness in confronting the pain that the Catholic church has hoisted upon them. Joe and Dan revisit separate lake houses where priests abused them. Mike recreates the trigger for his immense anger, but moves past it to something more painful, and somehow finds forgiveness in a heart full of scar tissue. Ed painstakingly rebuilds the site of his trauma. Michael and Tom sacrifice their hearts and bodies to act as priests in the short films of their brothers-in-arms.
And brothers they are – or at least brothers they become. Procession witnesses something more than just six men creating five films: it catalogs the forging of what seems to be an unbreakable bond between men who have been forced to endure the unthinkable. And right beside them is Trobough, the uncommonly wise young boy who acts in each short film.
Those who have suffered abuse – specifically sexual abuse – will likely find individual moments that resonate in Procession. Greene gives agency and authorship to Tom, Joe, Mike, Ed, Michael, and Dan in the telling of their stories, opening his own lens in the hopes of helping these men tell their stories. It's an essential film.