“What you see in the film is the tip of the iceberg” says producer Gabe Hoffman on An Open Secret, the documentary from Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg about child sex abuse in Hollywood.
Youth talent manager Marty Weiss with Evan Henzi, who he was convicted of sexually molesting.
The Guardian by Benjamin Lee
Friday 22 May 2015 08.14 EDT Last modified on Friday 22 May 2015 08.54 EDT
A revealing new documentary about the sexual abuse of children within Hollywood is hoping to lift the lid off an alleged network that implicates major industry figures.
An Open Secret, which was shown this week in an out-of-festival screening in Cannes, is a damning new film from Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg, who previously explored paedophilia within the Catholic church in Deliver Us From Evil.
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First-hand accounts from young actors who suffered at the hands of managers, publicists and directors, while underage, are used alongside input from investigative journalists and psychologists who present a damaging collection of evidence.
“What you see in the film is literally just the tip of the iceberg,” executive producer Gabe Hoffman claimed. “For every victim that’s in the film, there are another five or 10 with fact-checked, legitimate accounts who didn’t want to be identified.”
Hoffman, along with producing partner Matt Valentinas, has no film experience nor desire to be in the industry, but the pair were so compelled by the subject matter that they approached director Berg about making the film. Valentinas claims there were “weekly, often daily calls” with a first-amendment specialist lawyer to ensure that the inflammatory claims were legally sound. “We’ve not had one lawsuit yet,” Hoffman said. “We’ve not even had one threatening letter from anybody.”
But the content of the film, which covers alleged drug-fuelled parties laid on by an interconnected group of older men to seduce and intoxicate underage actors as well as more personalised stories of abuse, has led to difficulties getting people to see it. It’s been rejected by major film festivals, including London, struggled to find distribution and had to receive cuts to avoid legal action.
It’s now getting a small release in the US, just 20 cities initially, in the hope it reaches a wider audience in time. The producers also hope it reaches the industry and provokes change. As it currently stands, registered sex offenders are still allowed to work within Hollywood, without difficulty. The film covers the story of actor Brian Peck, who previously worked for Nickelodeon and alongside director Bryan Singer on X-Men and X-Men 2; Peck was convicted of two counts of lewd acts with a child. Peck is now working within the system yet again.
“Why is he still working on a studio lot when he’s a convicted paedophile?” Valentinas said.
“Who is checking that? Who is doing the hiring?” Hoffman followed: “We want journalists to ask every single major studio: ‘Why would you allow any convicted paedophile to work in any form with your organisation, period? Why are they any part of what you would ever do?’”
It’s one of the main changes that the pair want the film to bring about. As well as stricter cross-checking, they want the film to lead to a mandatory minimum sentence for any convicted offenders. The film also explores the case of Marty Weiss, a youth-talent manager who was convicted of two charges against Evan Henzi, who alleged that Weiss assaulted him between 30 and 40 times over a five-year period. Weiss ended up serving just six months in prison.
“I’m angry at the legal system.” Henzi, now 21, said. “I’m starting to understand exactly what happened to me because if I keep it in my head, I’m so confused all the time. I blamed myself and felt guilty. Going back to the beginning, I realised that was not the case and it was just me trying to believe that everyone was good in the world and knew better than me. Now that I’m older, I know it was just sick. You don’t have sex with an 11-year-old kid.”
Another aim of the film is to help the victims of abuse and prevent them from falling into chemical dependency, alcoholism and further psychological problems. All profits from the film will be going to a foundation set up to provide any necessary support.
Both producers see the film as the start to a long process that will now begin once more people have access to the story.
“If someone were to go through all the information and depositions, they would see a lot more people,” Hoffman said. “Ask them the questions, see what their story is and make your own judgments. We’re not saying, or implying, that any of those famous people have done bad things, but we’re just saying there are multiple connections which are much more than casual which should generate questions.”
Given the widespread problem within the industry that was unearthed by the initial research for the film, Hoffman claims there will be more to come.
“We could have gone further but we don’t want any innuendo,” he said. “This is not the end, this is the beginning to this situation.”