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A still from <i>Church and The Fourth Estate</i> by Brian Knappenberger, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Higgins. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Movie Reviews

Sundance 2020: Church and the Fourth Estate Review: Powerful documentary spotlights sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts

‘Church and the Fourth Estate’ examines a shocking cover up.

In recent years, many of the institutions that were once held up as bastions of safety and hope have become targets of mistrust and anger. The Catholic Church has seen numerous sexual abuse allegations while feelings about the  government are seemingly more divisive than they have ever been. Church and the Fourth Estate from director Brian Knappenberger explores a shocking cover up involving the Boy Scouts of America.

Knappenberger’s documentary examines a story from an Idaho Boy Scouts camp. Adam Steed tells a local newspaper reporter he was abused by a camp leader. As the director digs deeper, a cover up is revealed. Soon a small community, the Mormon Church, and a billionaire are all involved. Church and the Fourth Estate also examines the class divide and the future of the BSA.

Church and the Fourth Estate is an incredibly difficult watch. The film does not rely on second and third hand information. There are many interviews with Adam, the man who first levied the charges against the BSA. Though it has been years since the first incident, he is obviously still traumatized. Obviously, the actual acts have left their mental toll, but there are other reasons that make the situation so difficult for him.

Knappenberger is more than just a chronicler. He is able to make the audience become emotionally invested in the events. The audience will feel the same anger that Adam does. Knappenberger does this with a series of interviews. What makes Church and the Fourth Estate so effective is how much it is able to convey by what is not said. This becomes most evident when the documentary talks about the involvement of the richest man in Idaho. It is telling how much the interviewees are willing to say.

Though Church and the Fourth Estate is about the awful cover up, it also touches on the many divisions in society. Most obviously, is the class divide. This is seen through an attempt to discredit a reporter who first reported the story. It is also about power. From the BSA to those in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, people who had a chance to put a stop to what was going on simply decided it was not important enough. The effects on the victims are predictable.

Church and the Fourth Estate is a moving documentary that is upsetting on many different levels. Through a series of insightful interviews, director Brian Knappenberger sheds light on a terrifying cover up. Like many documentaries, Church and the Fourth Estate will shock and disgust, but it is also sad and terrifying. It is a sad commentary on America.

Is it good?
Documentaries like this are hard to watch but need to be made. Shocking and frustrating, it also says much about our current society.
Not just an information dump
Powerful interviews
Kanppenberger pulls no punches; the subject matter is tough to watch

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