spotlightIn what’s been the warmest reception I’ve seen for a film this year in Venice, Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight hit the Lido today, bringing awards buzz, and leaving the press corps exclaiming ‘Bellissima!’. Given this is a film whose subjects the audience knows a thing or two about — journalism and the Catholic church — the sustained press screening applause sounded a ringing endorsement for the out-of-competition title. Afterwards, McCarthy and stars Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci said they hoped Pope Francis would get to see the film that traces the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation into a sex abuse and corruption scandal which rocked a city, and one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions.

Saying he was speaking on behalf of the real-life characters, the cast and victims, Ruffalo expressed they were all “hoping that the pope and the Vatican use this very, very sober and judicious story to begin to heal the wounds that the church also received.” Spotlight is “a perfect opportunity” for the Vatican “to begin to right these wrongs, not just for the victims and their destroyed lives, but for all the people who’ve lost a way to order a chaotic world for themselves.”

Set in 2001, the movie follows the dedicated members of the Globe‘s Spotlight news team as they delve into allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, ultimately exposing a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment, and setting off a wave of revelations around the world. Ruffalo plays lead writer Mike Rezendes and Tucci is victims’ attorney Mitch Garabedian. Also starring are Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James and John Slattery.

all the president's menSlattery plays section editor Ben Bradlee Jr, which is only one small reason this movie brings to mind All The President’s Men. McCarthy was asked about that right off the bat at a press conference this afternoon and said, “Any film about journalism lives in the shadow of that film. I tried my hardest to ignore it because it’s just too imposing a film.” The helmer of The Station Agent and Oscar-nominated co-writer of Up also said Sydney Lumet has been an inspiration. “We’re referencing a number of movies but letting the story dictate that.”

The film methodically and engagingly traces how the team of crack reporters spent a year interviewing victims and reviewing thousands of pages of documents as evidence continued to mount and more and more corruption was uncovered — the drama works even if the outcome is already known. Ruffalo said, “The way the movie takes us through the story is particularly powerful for this moment in time as it relates to the Catholic Church. It allows us to follow the story in a dispassionate way and lays out purely facts so we’re able to critically take in the story.”

Some of the talk this afternoon also focused on the current state of journalism. McCarthy said he hopes the film shines a light “on the impact high-level investigative reporting can have on a local and bigger level. This is a great example of, unfortunately, a greatly diminished industry. If this can in anyway serve as a wake up call, that’s great.”

Spotlight will next head to Telluride, followed by Toronto as a Special Presentation and has a November 6 release in select domestic theaters courtesy of Open Road. It expands November 13 and goes wide on November 30. Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions picked up multiple international territories out of Cannes where eOne handled offshore sales. Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin and Michael Sugar are producers with Rocklin/Faust’s Nicole Rocklin and Blye Faust. Participant Media’s Jonathan King and Jeff Skoll are exec producers, as are Open Road’s Tom Ortenberg and Peter Lawson and Anonymous Content’s Bard Dorros.