The acclaimed director of the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist, William Friedkin, has recently returned to the world of the occult and has been talking to Variety about his new documentary The Devil and Father Amorth, which recently screened at the Venice Film Festival. Father Gabriel Amorth, who has since passed away, had conducted exorcism rituals on behalf of the Vatican Church and was said to be a fan of Friedkin’s work on The Exorcist and the director explained how the two men met which led to the creation of the project;
“I was familiar with his books, four or five of which are translated into English and I knew that he was kindly disposed towards The Exorcist movie, even though he had said the special effects were over the top. He felt that it helped people to understand his work. I had never tried to meet him; I never thought I could. But I was in Lucca [Italy] a year or so ago and someone casually mentioned that Lucca was about a half-hour drive to Pisa where there was an airport where I could catch a one-hour flight to Rome. Something clicked, and through a friend I was able to write Father Amorth. Two days later he wrote me back, and said he would meet me.
I was shocked. I had no idea that I would ever be able to even meet with him. I did know how busy he was. He was doing exorcisms all day every day right up until he went into the hospital and then died [in September 2016].”
This lead to Friedkin forming a bond of trust and understanding with the Priest, which eventually lead to him being given permission to film an actual exorcism by Father Amorth. Friedkin spoke of the shoot and what it entailed;
“I had to shoot it alone, obviously. The conditions were that I come along with no crew and no lights. So I used a Sony still camera that shot high-definition video. I had only that camera running and I was about two feet away from them, probably even closer. It was terrifying. I went from being afraid of what could happen to feeling a great deal of empathy with this woman’s pain and suffering, which is obvious in the film. The one that I filmed was her ninth, and she was having one a month.”
As well as the supernatural element, the documentary will also include a scientific element with the director interviewing practitioners of modern day Western medicine and his documentary provides their take on demonic possession, which is more worrying than you might expect, as Friedkin went on to explain;
“I consulted with neurologists, brain surgeons, some of the best in the United States. The brain surgeons had no idea what her affliction was and none of them would recommend an operation. They believe that everything originates in the brain but — and they say this in the film — they have never seen anything quite like these symptoms. Then the psychiatrists all described how psychiatry now recognizes demonic possession. It’s called dissociative identity disorder/demonic possession. And if a patient comes in and says they are possessed by a demon or a devil, they don’t tell them that they are not. They do whatever psychiatric treatment they think is necessary, including medication. And they bring an exorcist in.”
The Devil and Father Amorth debuted at the Venice Film Festival on August 31st and details of it’s general distribution have yet to be announced.