Championed by veteran documentary programmer Thom Powers, Amy Berg’s documentary exposé of Hollywood sex abuse “An Open Secret” finally world-premiered at the ongoing DOC NYC fest—to applause both muted and rapturous.
The doc points at several industry figures involved in the sexual exploitation of male would-be child stars, including Marc Collins-Rector, founder of the youth-aimed web channel Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), and child-actor manager Martin Weiss. But “An Open Secret,” according to THR’s review, doesn’t blatantly wag its finger at the still-unraveling saga of Bryan Singer, whose own “hedonistic parties” are an example of such settings of teenage sex abuse.
Oscar-nominated for her Catholic sex abuse doc “Deliver Us From Evil” (2006) and acclaimed for “West of Memphis” (2012), her deep-dive into Arkansas’ imprisonment of the teenage West Memphis Three, Berg has yet to secure a distributor for “An Open Secret.” Some of the reviews out of DOC NYC, rounded up below, address reasons why. On the heels of the Singer scandal and very recent rape allegations against Bill Cosby, the doc will surely court controversy whether on the festival circuit, VOD or in theaters.
Variety: “‘An Open Secret,’ Amy Berg’s nonsensationalist expose of the sexual abuse of young male actors by those with the power to make or break them, recasts an old Hollywood story, substituting boys for starlets and hot tubs for casting couches. Though clearly championing the cause of the ex-child thesps who candidly recount their ordeals, Berg’s crusade advances on eggshells, dodging the potential lawsuits looming at every name named. This caution somewhat fudges the film’s throughline, but if Berg can find a distrib willing to brave the forces that have silenced this open secret for decades, the documentary should find avid auds worldwide.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “‘Secret’ is wary of vague accusations and hearsay; it also, despite multiple references to Bryan Singer in its accounts of hedonistic parties, steers clear of airing the accusations that one of its interviewees made in a lawsuit filed earlier this year, then withdrawn after the accuser’s prior inconsistent statements emerged. This praiseworthy caution will likely keep the doc from attracting as much attention as many seem to expect (despite a surprise or two involving non-celebrities late in the film); it will play best on cable, where with any luck it will encourage other victims to speak up, and enlighten the parents of showbiz aspirants about the industry’s dangers.”
Indiewire: “More than highlighting victimhood, Berg’s film gives her subjects a platform without exploiting them. As the film makes painfully clear, it’s unfathomably difficult to come forward in this kind of situation, and despite copious accusations and a considerable number of young boys who have no reason to lie about such atrocities, they’ve been frequently silenced or ignored by the media.”
The Playlist: “While shocking and devastating, what defines Berg’s respectful documentary from others covering similarly lurid stories is its acute lack of sensationalism. Obviously a deeply sensitive subject, her film is unflinching and yet carefully considered. Meticulously crafted and investigated (and no doubt heavily vetted by lawyers), Berg brings a sobering solemnity to a very grave matter, but also lends a dignity to its subjects without pandering.”