From a photographer at the Gosnell trial, a look at coverage of the movie

Photographer J.D.Mullane took an iconic photo in 2013 at the trial of Kermit Gosnell: rows and rows of empty benches set aside for media. “Failure to cover [the trial] was an embarrassment for American journalism, and I will always take satisfaction helping to cause that embarrassment.”

He sees another cause for embarrassment for journalists and media gatekeepers like Facebook, as he sees how the movie Gosnell is being received, or not received. His essay is worth reading in full, at the following link:

http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/opinion/20181014/mullane-with-gosnell-another-media-blackout

Gosnell (Film Review)

Gosnell is subtitled the Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, signaling a true-crime story. The film is that, and more. For all the horror and injustice inherent in the crimes of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, this movie is about ordinary people and how they went about clearing away the horror and bringing justice to victims.

In Gosnell, the focus is on people, not on issues or causes. Therein lies the film’s strength.

The real-life Kermit Gosnell is serving life in prison after being convicted in of three counts of first-degree murder, one count of manslaughter, and a host of lesser charges. He got away with murder and a filthy clinic for many years, as authorities in Pennsylvania – Republican and Democrat alike – determined that regulation and oversight of abortion facilities was bad for women. Politics collided with women’s health.

The result at Gosnell’s abortion “clinic”: women died, women suffered, and children who survived attempted late-term abortion were ghoulishly murdered. Body parts from aborted children were kept like trophies; leaking bags of medical waste littered the facility. Gosnell’s crimes were discovered by authorities only by accident, as police raided the clinic as part of a drug investigation.

In the hands of an inept screenwriter or the wrong director, this true-crime story could have gone badly awry.  The makers of Gosnell got it right. The script leans heavily on trial transcripts and a grand jury report, yet dialogue flows naturally. The filmmakers thankfully manage largely to avoid melodrama; the sensational subtitle of the film is an exception.

The film’s subject matter made conventional funding hard to come by. The team behind the movie resorted to crowdfunding, and 30,000 people donated a total of $2.3 million to bring Gosnell to the screen.

Individual human beings matter in this film, including the women who came to Gosnell for abortions. The only judgment that viewers are invited to make regarding the women is about the mistreatment to which they were subjected.

The film takes time to do something that Philadelphia health authorities never did: tell the story of Karnamaya Mongar,  who came to Gosnell for an abortion. She wound up dead from an overdose of drugs administered by a poorly-trained staff acting under Gosnell’s direction. Eventually, Gosnell was convicted of manslaughter in her death, no thanks to the state and local health authorities who failed to inspect Gosnell’s facility for more than a decade.

The first glimmer of justice for Gosnell’s patients came thanks to police, most of them indifferent to abortion, who carried out a drug raid and discovered much more than they bargained for. They had no political agenda. They simply did their jobs and followed the evidence.

Dean Cain portrays Detective James Wood, engaging and friendly. His laconic partner, Stark, is played by AlfonZo Rachel, better known for his social commentaries on various media platforms.

At times during the film, the scenes of investigation are so ill-lit as to be irksome. One strains to see what’s happening on the screen- can’t there be more light?  All that can be seen at one time is what’s illuminated by a single police officer’s flashlight: a dirty piece of equipment, bloody linens, quick (but never gratuitous) views of Gosnell’s “trophies.” No gore, no exaggeration, yet those glimpses pack a punch.

Evidence from Gosnell’s office and home landed on the desks of prosecutors in Philadelphia who harbored no illusions about the trouble that would accompany the prosecution of an abortionist. Lead prosecutor Lexi McGuire  – a composite character played by Sarah Jane Morris – is pro-choice, but she refuses to look the other way when investigators bring her evidence of children killed by Gosnell after they survived attempted abortion. Like the investigators, she’s an ordinary person who does her job, and in so doing finds herself changed.

Earl Billings is unsettling as Kermit Gosnell. Unflappable in the face of investigators, bizarrely concerned about the welfare of his cats and turtles, calmly playing piano as police and prosecutors search through his files, Billings’s Gosnell seems like an affable if slightly ditzy grandfather. His face gives no clue to his taste for carnage. The screenwriters’ version of the doctor tracks closely with the documentation of the actual case and with interviews Gosnell has granted since his conviction.

Ironically, the only over-the-top characterization in the film comes from the man whose direction keeps the film understated. Director Nick Searcy plays Gosnell’s attorney, an expensively-clad shark who defends Gosnell with fierce and noisy passion. He chips away at the numerous charges against his client, but he can’t quite make jurors forget Karnamaya Mongar or the photos of babies with their spines “snipped.”

Gosnell’s office was raided in 2010. The trial was in 2013. During all that time, the Philadelphia Inquirer covered the case as a local-crime story, while most other media outlets ignored it. Finally, during the trial, national reporters were goaded (shamed?) into covering the story as a few journalists called attention to Gosnell. In the movie, the intrepid few who covered the case from day one are blended to create the character Molly Mullaney, a blogger (or “citizen journalist,” as she crisply introduces herself), played with attitude by Cyrina Fiallo.

Gosnell is based in part on the book by the same name by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, husband-and-wife authors who documented the trial and later teamed up to produce the film. In the book, McElhinney describes how her own views were affected by the doctor’s crimes.

I never trusted or liked pro-life activists. Even at college I thought them too earnest and too religious….

Fast forward to April 2013 and Kermit Gosnell’s trial in Philadelphia, when everything changed….[T]he images shown in the courtroom were not from activists, they were from police detectives and medical examiners and workers at the 3801 Lancaster Ave. clinic….What they said and the pictures they showed changed me. I am not the same person I was.

A story so powerful deserves to be told with care, and Gosnell meets the challenge.

After viewing the film, I went back to re-read the grand jury report that led to Gosnell’s trial. It underscores how much restraint was exercised by the makers of Gosnell as they brought the story to the screen.

Had state and local officials performed their duties properly, Gosnell’s clinic would have been shut down decades ago. Gosnell would have lost the medical license that he used to inflict irreparable harm on women; to illegally abort viable, late-term fetuses; and to kill innumerable babies outside the womb….Let us say right up front that we realize this case will be used by those on both sides of the abortion debate. We ourselves cover a spectrum of personal beliefs about the morality of abortion. For us as a criminal grand jury, however, the case is not about that controversy; it is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants. We find common ground in exposing what happened here, and in recommending measures to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.


Gosnell premieres nationwide on Friday, October 12, 2018. See gosnellmovie.com for a list of theaters. 

“Gosnell” to be released October 12

Ever since seeing the rough cut of the film Gosnell last year, I’ve looked forward to the film’s release. Financing and finding a distributor took awhile. Finally, a release date has been set for the drama based on the trial of Kermit Gosnell: October 12, 2018.

Anyone looking for a sensationalized Gothic horror story can look elsewhere. This is a crime story, with much of the background taken from the Gosnell grand jury report. The focus for much of the movie is on the investigators and prosecutors, none of whom has an axe to grind one way or the other regarding the right to life. The story is about ordinary people, doing their jobs diligently, who are brought up short when political considerations get in the way of investigating homicides.

The portrayal of Kermit Gosnell is chilling in its restraint. It would have been easy for the screenwriters to render him in caricature. They didn’t.

I don’t know where the film will be screened locally, but I’ll watch for it.


The producers of the film are the authors of Gosnell – The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer. Here’s my review of the book from 2017. 

 

“Euthanasia Deception” screening 1/21 in Rochester

I’ve seen & recommend this film, The Euthanasia Deception, produced by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. Rochester-area readers have a chance to see it January 21 at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary church in Rochester, New Hampshire. Details are in the PDF embedded below.

Download (PDF, 191KB)



 

Surprised by “The Drop Box”

Did you miss the film The Drop Box when it was first released? I did. I thought that the documentary about a Korean pastor’s work saving abandoned children was a good idea, and I figured I’d watch it eventually – and then other things crowded it out. This week, in the middle of a free trial of Netflix, I finally watched it.

I recommend that you do the same. It was far more powerful than I expected.

Pastor Lee, who created a “drop box” in South Korea. Photo courtesy thedropboxfilm.com.

I guess I expected a feel-good movie, dripping with sentimentality. What I saw instead had an edge that was unsettlingly hard. Pastor Lee and his extended family, the people at the core of the film, are caring for one another in the midst of some grim conditions. Disabilities are not glossed over or prettified. The area government is not supportive of the pastor’s “drop box” – a safe haven for abandoned children – with the result that some social-service resources are denied to the children cared for by Pastor Lee and his wife. Needs abound, while solutions are scarce. The Lees respond with loving hearts and faith in God, taking care of as many children as they can.

It’s amazing and essential work. It’s not easy. The Lees are draining themselves in every respect, devoting their lives to the children they’ve rescued. The film is candid about the power of the ministry as well as its costs.

If you find yourself sampling a streaming service, see if The Drop Box is on the menu, tucked in between the travelogues and the sports documentaries. As tough as it is inspiring, The Drop Box is worth your undivided attention.