Toledoan: 'Great Things Have Happened' since 'Twist of Faith'
Documentary Featuring Local Firefighter Is Released on DVD

By Christopher Borrelli
Toledo Blade
February 17, 2006

Tony Comes in a scene from Twist of Faith, a documentary that never opened for a regular screening schedule in Toledo.
( HBO )

Last February about this time, the most high-profile feature to ever be filmed in Toledo, Kirby Dick's Twist of Faith, had a sparkling future. A month before, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to standing ovations; a month later, Dick and producer Eddie Schmidt were at the Academy Awards, nominated for best documentary alongside Super Size Me and Born Into Brothels.

But it lost (to Brothels). It aired in the dead of summer on HBO. And it never opened for a regular screening schedule in, of all places, Toledo. This week, finally, the film is on DVD (HBO, $24.98).

Perfect time for an update:

Tony Comes — the subject of the film, the Toledo firefighter who alleged that former priest Dennis Gray sexually abused him as a teenager — was singled out last month during Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's State of the City address. A chain smoker in the film, he quit smoking (then came down with pneumonia last week and spent four days in the hospital). Our Lady of Perpetual Help, his church, hosted a screening of the film in December; and Comes and his wife, Wendy, are still together.

Kirby Dick, who directed Twist of Faith, returned to the Sundance Film Festival this year with This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

But the biggest news is Comes became a full-blown activist: He testified before the Ohio House Judiciary Committee in support of a bill that would extend the statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging sexual abuse. (The legislation currently remains in the House.)

"Great things have happened," he said. "What needs to happen now is that this law gets passed, and frankly, we're not making the headway we had expected."

(As an alternative to the bill, Bishop Frederick Campbell of the Columbus Diocese proposed a civil registry of accused molesters; if the statute of limitations is extended, the church potentially faces hundreds of new lawsuits.)

Dennis Gray, former cleric and dean of students for Toledo Public Schools who was the focus of nine sexual abuse lawsuits in 2002, surrendered his school-principal license in December. A month later, the Ohio Board of Education revoked the license permanently. (Comes' lawsuit against the Diocese of Toledo was settled out of court in 2004.)

Kirby Dick and Eddie Schmidt premiered the follow-up to Twist of Faith last month at Sundance, and chances are more of you will see their new movie than their last.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated couldn't be more different from the gut-wrenching Twist of Faith. Snappy, studded with deeply funny moments of absurdity, the film works as an entertaining indictment of the mysterious ratings board overseen by the Motion Picture Association of America — the same ratings board that gave Dick's documentary an NC-17 because it includes scenes other pictures had removed to receive an R rating.

Dick hires a private investigator. He tails leads. He interviews filmmakers who've been burned by the ratings system. And for the grand finale, he identifies the members of not only the ratings board (traditionally, their names are kept secret by the MPAA) but the industry executives who preside over the appeals process. (A distribution deal is in the works.)

As for why Twist of Faith never received a regular run in Toledo — that's complicated, and the reasons remain vague and baffling. Everyone blames someone else. The Maumee Indoor Theater, which hosted the HBO premiere of the film in June, passed on a regular run to cries of censorship from the filmmakers and local victims' rights groups. The theater (owned by the city of Maumee) and its managers said it was a business decision, not an issue of subject matter.

Which raises the question:

Why didn't Artistic License, the film's tiny New York-based distributor, just go to National Amusements, the dominant theater chain in Toledo?

It did, and according to sources on both sides of the negotiations, it was a simple failure of being able to agree on things like the cost of renting the theater and split of the box-office receipts.

These were the same issues that plagued the Maumee deal, according to the theater — with a couple of additional problems with the National Amusements deal: Artistic License never struck an actual print of Twist of Faith on film stock.

The company, which has a policy of leaving the cost of prints and advertising up to the film's producer, distributed the movie on DVD, and so theaters that showed it either had a digital projector or rented one.

Maumee had used one, but National Amusements is still a reel-centric exhibitor and wasn't set up for digital projection; at one point, the chain considered renting a digital projector but by middle of summer, Twist of Faith was airing on HBO, and the company tends to shy away from pictures already shown on television. Couple that with the relative lack of screens in summer (when every blockbuster like The Fantastic Four chews up a half-dozen screens in the same city), the last-minute nature of the deals, and the cost of releasing a movie — and there you go.

LEND ME YOUR EAR: Watching the lovely new Criterion two-disc edition of John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln ($39.95) and the new reissue of Vincente Minnelli's Lust for Life (Warner, $19.98) is to watch the history of not only the Hollywood biopic but biographies in general. If the whole James Frey-Oprah-memoir thing is way more complicated than the debate that followed it, here are a couple of films that make peace with the idea that the official version of events and the real events do resonate together.

Lincoln, for one, is more fun than the stiff title lets on. In the way Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck chose episodes in a career rather than the sprawl of a life, Ford and Henry Fonda (as Lincoln) use a murder trial Lincoln served on as defense attorney to speak volumes about a man's morality and intellect. (In keeping with such modest work, the second disc sticks with a BBC history of early Ford and a ream of studio memos.)

Restraint has never been much on the mind of Kirk Douglas, who plays van Gogh in Lust for Life. But the film is dedicated to facts, and is ambitious in its depictions of the neediness of even a great artist.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: or 419-724-6117.


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