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Last night I was lucky enough to go to a pre-release screening of Spotlight courtesy of the St James Ethics Centre. A Hollywood movie with top actors (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci et al), this movie is the story of the 2001 investigative journalism probe from Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. The investigation led to the uncovering of the pattern of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. It’s about the system, rather than the individuals. And one of the many observations is that it takes outsiders to crack a system.


It’s a corker of a movie. If you want the ‘All The President’s Men’ of this decade, this film is it. But, a light ride it is not. I’ve been working in and around the records and archives issues relating to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse for a while now, so the film had particular relevance to what I was thinking about. In fact, I’ve been more exposed to the tales of victims and survivors than many, and I found this quite gruelling.

From recordkeeping perspective, as always, the plot is driven by the uncovering of documents and proof of events. So it’s a cracking recordkeeping story. A sub theme is recordkeeping as a component of life that is always there, but not vitally critical until something goes wrong. Once something goes wrong, or is suspicious, then records take a major boost in importance. This film underscores this point. Many of the records and documents discussed involved the legal system, where process and the American system of what is public and what is suppressed is featured.

There are lots of great shots of archives – institutional and personal – as stories are uncovered and pieced together with forensic care. Set in 2001, the movie shows lots of paper based recordkeeping – shots of card-exes, microfilm, rows of archives boxes, trolleys with files, stacked paper and files everywhere – heaps of good archival stuff.

But this film did me in – I found it very hard to watch, so lots of squirming in my seat, which seems only fitting. The stories of all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse are compelling and need to be heard. This film highlights the problems of getting their voices heard. This film does a cracking job of revealing this, the damage done, the way people lean on other people to shore up the status quo, and the ability to look back and say ‘why didn’t we know and do something earlier’.

Recommended viewing from any number of perspectives.

The movie trailer is here: