Festival Notes: Los Angeles Film Festival
Profile: Amy Berg

Deliver Us from Evil

By Leonard Klady
Movie City News [California]
June 26, 2006

When Amy Berg decided to hang out a shingle and produce feature documentaries two years ago, she wasn't quite sure what subject might both consume her interest and hit a nerve with audiences.

Berg, a Los Angeles native, began her career in local radio, moved into local news at KCBS and segued to a gig producing investagative reports for CNN. She received Emmys for a sports documentary and a social profile set in South Central L.A. In those jobs, she'd also done close to a dozen reports on the sex scandals that wracked California's Catholic dioceses over the past decade.

"The subject had become like mother's milk to me," said Berg. "It's just so complex and despite this wall of silence, or at least lack of cooperation from the church, the leaks continue to reveal details that are shocking and alarming."

An associate had given Berg a phone number for one Father Oliver O'Grady and she decided to make a blind call to him. A convicted pedophile, he had moved back to Ireland to escape incarceration. She knew him only from criminal records and imagined him as some sort of monster preying on the vulnerability of children.

"That first call still sticks with me," she says. "He answers the phone, 'hello and good evening,' with such warmth, you'd think you were encountering some delightful, impish leprechaun."

If not precisely a profile of O'Grady, her feature documentary Deliver Us from Evil - which premiered Saturday at the Los Angeles Film Festival - situates him at its center. For good and ill, he is its soul. Berg puts it more simply: "There would be no film without O'Grady."

There's no denying that the priest, who worked in several North California parishes, has a seductive personality and the filmmaker admits she had to watch that she didn't fall under his spell. Berg points out that he honed a well-craft rationalization for his predatory behavior but was not blind to the fact that he relished the attention; perhaps even gloried in it.

"He'd ask me questions about Cardinal (Roger) Mahoney (of Los Angeles) and other things to test the waters," she recalls. "He feels safely away from it all in Ireland and besides, he keeps a low profile.

Berg personally financed a trip to see meet O'Grady. Months later, she made another trip and in eight days shot the interview footage. Armed with that material she proceeded to secure the private financing that allowed her to make the movie. The rest of the film is culled from available news material and extensive interviews with three of O'Grady's victims, their families, and their emotional and legal support teams. Deliver Us from Evil's emotional potency derives largely from putting a human face on decades of looking away from this crisis by the church.

O'Grady hasn't seen the film and, in fact, he's had no contact with Berg since shortly after conducting the interviews. After finding out about O'Grady's participation, his brother - an Irish entertainer - advised him in no uncertain terms not to speak again with the filmmaker. She's been told that he's now taking computer training, but to what end remains a msytery.

Berg couldn't be more pleased about the audience response during the opening weekend of the festival. She says that she wrestled with bowing the film at the Tribeca fest or in Ireland but the public and industry reaction at LAFF more than validated her decision to premiere the film where the story would have the greatest resonance.

- by Leonard Klady


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