Oscar-Winning Spotlight Coming To Chatham After All

February 29, 2016

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The Oscar award-winning film Spotlight is coming to Chatham, Ont., the one-time home of a Catholic priest who sexually abused nearly 50 girls.

Charles Sylvestre, 84, of Belle River, Ont., pleaded guilty in August 2006 to indecently assaulting 47 girls between 1954 and 1986. His victims were between ages seven and 15 at the time of the abuse. The abuse happened across southwestern Ontario, including Chatham.

Charges included indecent assault, sexual assault and sexual intercourse with a female under 14 years of age.

Sylvestre died in prison in 2007.

Tom McCarthy's Spotlight is about the Boston Globe's exposé of rampant sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Boston. At the end of the film, several other cities in which abuse occurred are listed. Chatham is one of them.

Spotlight, which won the Oscar for best picture, was never screened in Chatham during its run last year.

Chatham wasn't on the list of cities to which the film was distributed.

"Given the small number of screens in the Chatham theatre, we are unfortunately not able to play all movies that are released during the year. This is common to all locations with a smaller number of screens due to the high volume of films that are released regularly throughout the year," Cineplex vice president of communications Pat Marshall wrote in an email to CBC.

The Chatham-Kent Film Group tells CBC in email it will bring the film to Chatham on June 6. The organization is a non-profit group of volunteers and a member of Film Circuit, a division of the Toronto International Film Festival Group.

Sylvestre's crimes and the fact the town is noted at the end of the film inspired the Chatham-Kent Film Group to pursue a screening.

"We thought it would be relevant to our community in light of what happened," group member Irene Carey said, referring to the Sylvester case. "We thought it was particularly important"

Rob Talach, a London lawyer, had tried to persuade officials at Chatham's Cineplex Galaxy to show the film, but was told Spotlight was not on the theatre's distribution plan.

Talach and his firm have represented more than 100 victims of Catholic clergy sex abuse in civil suits across Canada. He calls Chatham an "epicentre" for sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

'From tears to shock'

"Despite these stories being in the paper on a regular basis there is a disconnect with the general public," Talach told CBC. "I still don't think there's complete understanding in Chatham of how that happened. Yes, people understand there was a bad priest who abused children. But how was he able to do that for so long. Spotlight helps explain that. People of Chatham need to understand the mechanisms and the institutional involvement that went into what ended up happening to the children in Chatham."

Spotlight focuses on a group of investigative reporters employed at the Boston Globe who, in 2001, spent months digging into details on how the Catholic Church covered up multiple cases of sexual abuse.

Talach had already booked a theatre in London and showed the film there.

"There was everything from tears to shock. I think overall it was positive. When the movie ended it was absolute pin-drop silence in the theatre," he said.

Despite the June screening, he's still determined to show the film in Chatham, too.

"If I have to rent an arena and put it up with a projector from a DVD, I'm looking at doing that as well," he said.

Published on February 29, 2016

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