Oscar Nods On Newtown

Published: January 28, 2005 at 12:00 am


Oscar Nods On Newtown

By Shannon Hicks

When the nominations were announced on Tuesday morning for the 77th Annual Academy Awards, a Newtown native’s name was right there in the thick of things. Eddie Schmidt was the producer for the documentary Twist of Faith, which has been nominated in the Documentary Feature category.

The film takes an unflinching, emotional look at a man who was sexually abused by a Catholic priest when he was a boy, learns that he has been lied to by the church, and decides to move forward with a lawsuit against the church.

The Oscars will be handed out on Sunday, February 27. Mr Schmidt and Kirby Dick, the director of Twist of Faith, are hoping to hear the words “and the Oscar goes to…” and then their names.

Wednesday afternoon, about 30 hours after the nominations were announced, Mr Schmidt was still obviously excited at the news.

“It’s very exciting,” he admitted in a phone interview this week. He and Mr Dick are currently in Utah for the 2005 Sundance Film Festival as their film is given its world premiere. Screenings of Twist of Faith continue through Saturday, January 29.

The film, which began its screenings on January 23, “is getting great response here,” said Mr Schmidt. It is one of 16 films, chosen from 624 submitted American documentaries, being screened during this year’s competition.

“We learned in November that we had made the short list of 12 nominees [for the Oscars], and that people were responding to the film,” Mr Schmidt said. “I’ve probably psyched myself down since then, because I didn’t want to be disappointed.

“But I’m thrilled about the nomination,” he admitted.

Twist of Faith tells the story of Tony Comes of Toledo, Ohio, a 34-year old husband, father, firefighter, and loyal Catholic who is forced to face his past when he learns that Father Dennis Gray — a Catholic priest who Comes says abused him as a child — is living five doors away from Mr Comes and his family. The film follows Mr Comes as he goes public with his story, first as John Doe and then with his given name, and the repercussions within his home and the Toledo community of his difficult decision.

It was the 2002 allegations of sexual abuse coming out of Boston that began to resurrect memories for Mr Comes, and also caused Mr Schmidt and Mr Dick to begin looking at that subject for their next documentary.

The partners, who run Chain Camera Pictures, were put in touch with Mr Comes through a survivors’ network. Mr Schmidt called the first meeting with Mr Comes and his wife Wendy, which lasted for over two hours, “very emotional, very intense.”

“Suing the church is not something you want to do,” Mr Schmidt said. “It’s a last resort. Many survivors want to remain in their faith.

“The decision for Tony was agonizing,” he continued. “It was difficult for himself, for his family, and for this tight-knit community. I think he saw the film as a way to reach the community.”

The cameras followed Mr Comes through every step of his agonizing decision and its repercussions, including the moments when Mr Comes sat down to tell his then 8-year-old daughter what had happened to him.

Also nominated in the Documentary Feature category are Born Into Brothels, The Story of The Weeping Camel, Super Size Me, and Tupac: Resurrection.

Eddie Schmidt graduated from Newtown High School in June 1988. He moved to Los Angeles four years later, after graduating from Vassar, where he studied film.

Mr Schmidt began “paying my dues,” he said, at New Line Cinema doing postproduction work. He has also done production work on TV series including Blind Date and The Competition, original DVD content for films including Boogie Nights and Se7en, and has contributed to National Public Radio’s series This American Life.

Eddie Schmidt began collaborating with Kirby Dick on the documentary, Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. He then produced Mr Dick’s next feature, the critically acclaimed Chain Camera, which premiered in competition at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. They have been partners since then, Mr Schmidt said this week. They collaborated on Showgirls: Glitz & Angst for HBO’s America Undercover documentary series, which became one of the highest rated documentary specials of 2003.

They recently finished The End, which looks at five terminally ill patients and their families in a Los Angeles hospice program, for Cinemax’s Reel Life series. That documentary debuted at the 2004 South by Southwest Film Festival.

Mr Schmidt’s parents, Bob and Josie Schmidt of Newtown, are heading to Utah this weekend to spend time with their son, his wife Rachel (a production designer currently working on the WB series The Gilmore Girls), and Eddie and Rachel’s son, Leon. The Schmidts will be attending a screening of Twist of Faith, and there will certainly be a family celebratory dinner.

“We’re always proud of his achievements,” Bob Schmidt said this week. “This is just icing on the cake.”

“We’re famous by association,” his mom laughed.

Mr Schmidt was not sure this week if he and Mr Dick will be among the 3,400 people sitting inside The Kodak Theatre next month.

“I’m not even sure if we get to go,” Mr Schmidt admitted. “I think we get to go, but I’m just not sure. I hope so!”

Whether Eddie Schmidt and Kirby Dick are inside that Hollywood theater or not on February 27, it i’s a pretty sure thing that there will be plenty of people watching the Oscar ceremonies a little closer from their homes in Newtown this year.

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