EXCLUSIVE: A documentary just starting to make the festival rounds right now from executive producers Frank Marshall (Sully) and Matt Tolmach (Amazing Spider-Man 1&2, Jumanji remake) and directed and produced by Paige Goldberg Tolmach has gotten some attention given its subject matter in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. What Haunts Us delves into a sexual predator — a beloved teacher and coach — who preyed upon boys in a high school in Charleston, SC. Six boys from Goldberg Tolmach’s alma mater later committed suicide, which is not unusual for those who were sexually abused for a long while.
The filmmaker, the wife of Matt Tolmach, has strong words for the industry and this country. “We have a responsibility to protect our children. We need to talk to our children about this. And most of us don’t know how to because we’ve never had to deal it. I know we can stop this from happening. Keep your eyes open. Keep talking about it. Be the squeaky wheel. Look at what’s at stake if you’re not. You must be the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
While her former high school has remained mum on the subject, those who were subjected to sexual abuse have come forward to talk about what happened. “There is a grooming process,” said Goldberg Tolmach. “In one instance, the teacher became good friends with the family when the boy was 9 years old.” That fourth grader, Guerry Glover, now a grown adult, is one of those who spoke up 20 years later after 10 years of abuse.
“Pattie Fitgerald at Safely Ever After said to me, ‘Pay attention to who pays attention to your kid. No healthy adult wants to hang out with your kid after school if they aren’t getting paid for it,’ ” said the filmmaker, who talked about the warning signs.
This film was not easy to put together, in fact it took her five years, and a big part of that was gaining trust from those who were abused. “This was my town, my community and my friends,” she said. “It took a couple of years to earn trust and for everyone to be comfortable with what I was doing. The first call I made was to Guerry. I was scared to call him. I said you might not remember me from high school but I remember you. I won’t do this if it will hurt you further but you are my hero. If this makes you uncomfortable, I won’t do it. He said he was grateful to talk about it. Guerry led me to three or four other kids who were abused and then they led me to three or four more and then it was ballooning. That’s when I realized that this is way deeper than what I thought it was.”
What’s remarkable in the film is that the sexual predator Eddie Fischer is on camera talking about what he did to kids at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC. It comes from a nine-hour deposition from the civil suit while he was already incarcerated. Remarkably, he speaks openly about it. And What Haunts Us reveals — and as we have seen dramatized in Netflix’s The Keepers: Who Killed Sister Cathy? or on the Oscar-winning feature Spotlight — these sexual predators are often shuffled from one place to another as no one addresses the problem head on.
What Haunts Us next goes to the Austin Film Festival this weekend and then to DocNYC on November 13. They are currently in discussion with distributors about a theatrical release.