The virtual Sundance Film Festival is just eight days out, and two world-premiere documentaries have just been added to the lineup.
One is “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” a documentary about the wealth system in the United States from directors Abigail E. Disney and Kathleen Hughes. The other is “Phoenix Rising,” a new documentary from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (“Deliver Us from Evil,” “An Open Secret”) centered on actress Evan Rachel Wood and her story as a survivor and accuser of Marilyn Manson, whom she named as her alleged abuser in February 2021.
In the film, the actress and activist takes her experience as a survivor of domestic violence to pursue justice, heal generational trauma, and reclaim her story in a culture that instinctively blames women. The film intimately charts her journey as she moves toward naming her infamous abuser for the first time.
Manson has denied all allegations, and in the aftermath of Wood’s testimony, among abuse allegations from other women, he has been dropped by his label, agent, manager, and publicist. (This, despite having a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year this year for his contributions to Kanye West’s “DONDA.”)
In an interview with Variety, Berg said that Wood initially approached her back in 2019 to make the film that would become “Phoenix Rising.” While Berg initially resisted the idea of directing, the pandemic compelled her to rethink her decision.
“It wasn’t about Marilyn Manson, and his whole world,” Berg said of the movie’s origins. “This was about an Erin Brockovich story. We were really focused on telling a story about empowerment, something that would offer resources for women and men who are stuck in abusive situations. And that was what we were making — until she decided to name him publicly.”
Berg and Wood shot the film with “a number of survivors” during COVID with a small crew. HBO has signed on to release the film in two parts later this year.
Wood first came forward as a rape and domestic violence survivor in 2016. Since then, the actress has prioritized activism relating to issues of domestic abuse, including creating the Phoenix Act in 2019 that “extends the statute of limitations on domestic violence to five years from three.” The bill took effect in January 2020, prior to which Wood testified before the California Senate and revealed her abuser tied her up and beat her “with a torture device called a violet wand,” adding, “To him it was a way for me to prove my loyalty. The pain was excruciating. It felt like I left my body and a part of me died that day.”
“Naming Manson obviously created a lot more story for us. It became a two-part film in the edit bay,” Berg said.
Berg said the film is also about “how she was forced into adulthood from such young age — like ‘Thirteen,’ and those roles.”