Monday, October 5, 2015

Raindance: An Open Secret (2015)

In the summer of 1999, as the World Wide Web was promising all kinds of technological miracles, a new type of televisual media company launched called the Digital Entertainment Network.  It was an online video archive aimed at teenage boys with a host of original web shows aimed specifically at targeting niche audiences, including extreme sports fans, young Christians and young gay and bisexual viewers.  The company was proclaiming itself to be a radical and innovative new medium for speaking to young kids, and yet in only a few months the whole experiment was to implode under a series of extremely dark allegations about the behavior of its founders…

Amy Berg is quietly becoming the most daring documentarian in America; with her last few documentaries aimed at fundamentalist Mormons, the abuse of Catholic priests and the West Memphis Three.  And yet An Open Secret goes up against an even more powerful group: Hollywood executives.

Starting with testimonies from aspiring child actors and their families, along with clips of the quaint television spots that they appeared in, Berg begins to explore what audition/media culture was like during the ‘80s and ‘90s for some aspiring child stars:  Especially those involved in the DEN experiment, with the main villains of the film being the three founders: Chad Shackley, Brock Pierce and Marc Collins-Rector.

DEN arrived years before video streaming was easily accessible to most users, yet Shackley and others insisted that they shot a lot of video content featuring all of the young teens.  This low-budget video inevitably started to all take place in his own mansion house, which became a place notorious for late night parties with sponsors and executives.  The boys even started to move in, and were eventually encouraged to join in with the drugs and alcohol that were being passed around by the adults – some of which were well known A-listers like Bryan Singer

There is no point in attempting to recount all of the allegations in the film, as it obviously needs to be seen in full to appreciate the severity of the individual charges, yet the fact that this kind of film is clearly so hard to make is a real testament to the production team.  As the title suggests, this kind of Hollywood abuse is an open secret that has been around for decades – yet to speak out has been seen as such a career killer.  It seems that to start the dialogue, Berg has had to focus on a number of antagonists whose stories were already vaguely in the public record, as opposed to revealing any new names that would really shock the audience.

Ultimately, the final message of the film is to “Be Courageous, Report It: Life Gets Better.”  Which, I guess, is an open message to both victims of abuse and her fellow filmmakers…

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