Michael Jackson fans may be up in arms about the upcoming HBO documentary on allegations of child sexual abuse by the singer but today attendees at the Sundance Film Festival were up on their feet over Leaving Neverland.
Wade Robson and James Safechuck received a standing ovation from the almost entirely full Egyptian Theatre when director Dan Reed asked them to join him onstage after the intense four-hour screening on SFF’s second day.
With police and Sundance security close by as well as outside and in the lobby, the trio took often applause-interrupted questions about the film. Robson and Safechuck also discussed why they participated in what has become a source of controversy for Sundance and the potentially litigious Jackson Estate.
“I don’t feel that like there is anything I need to say to them except that I understand that it is really hard or them to believe,” Robson said in the short Q&A in response a question of what he would say to Jackson fans who doubt the truth of his story and Leaving Neverland. “Even though it happened to me I still couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing, so I understand, “ he added to approval from the crowd.
“We can only understand and accept something when we are ready,” Robson concluded.
“What happened, happened,” said Robson Friday in Park City also of the now dead Jackson’s conduct and the subsequent unsuccessful lawsuit he launched a few years back. Robson noted that he hopes Reed’s film “helps other survivors feel less isolated” and raises awareness “to stop this from happening” to other children.
Robson and Safechuck have claimed they were sexually abused by Jackson years and years ago when they were ages 7 and 10. Over a decade ago, Robson said under oath that Jackson never acted inappropriately with him but his much more recent lawsuit asserts that the performer was a serial sexual predator who assaulted him repeatedly for years.
Leaving Neverland itself concludes with Robson saying to the camera “I want to speak the truth as much as I spoke the lie.”
The estate of the Thriller singer, who was acquitted in 2005 of seven counts of child molestation and two counts of giving a drug to a 13-year-old boy, have torched Neverland as “just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations.”
In response to that, Safechuck told the Theatre that “there was no money ever offered” for his and Robson’s extensive participation in the film. “This was really just trying to tell the story,” he asserted, adding he wanted to shine a light” on sexual abuse of children and what can be done to stop it.
Airing on HBO and Channel 4 in March, Leaving Neverland screens tomorrow in Salt Lake City where police say they expect many more protesters than the less than a handful that showed up in chilly Park City today. Despite concerns earlier this week and today, there were no disturbances in the theatre during and after the screening today.
Sundance runs until February 3, same day as the Super Bowl.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.