A Peloton of One


The road is a long and lonely one.

(2020) Documentary (Self-Released) Dave Ohlmuller, Joe Capozzi, Chris Gambino, Marci Hamilton, Tommy Williams, Robert M. Hootson, Ken Kaczmarz, Sen. Joe Vitale, Kathryn Robb, Art Baselice, Ginna Ohlmuller, Patty Hogan, Drew Broderick, Dave Broderick, Sam Rivera, Marc Pearlman, Danielle Pulananni, Betsey Blankenship, Bridie Farrell, Kelsey Stoll. Directed by Steven E. Mallorca and John C. Bernardo

 

One of the most awful, despicable acts that one human can perform on another is to sexually abuse a child. It robs the victim of their childhood, and often, much of the good things of an adult life; rthe ability to maintain a romantic relationship, the ability to trust another. Making it even more difficult is that children often cope with their abuse by keeping it to themselves, feeling themselves damaged and unworthy; often when they do come forward, they aren’t believed or supported. It usually takes years and even decades for a person who has suffered this kind of abuse to come forward.

Dave Ohlmuller is one of those victims. Sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a boy, he grew into manhood, suffering from his trauma in ways that most of us can’t even fathom. It effected his relationship with his wife and son, and also his health as he turned to an unhealthy lifestyle to cope. Eventually, he opened up to former priest and CSA advocate Robert M. Hootson, a phone call that changed Dave’s life. He started to take better care of himself, taking up platform tennis, yoga and bike riding.

But even though he had a support system, he didn’t really take advantage of it as he decided to navigate the legal system and make sure that the man who abused him was never allowed to do the same horrible things to other children, but Dave met stone walls at every turn. The Catholic church was uncooperative and in many ways, vindictive, making it nearly impossible for Dave to track down his abuser to discover if he had been removed from the church, as he was first told (which turned out to be inaccurate) or put in a position where he was prevented from having unsupervised interaction with children, which the church claimed but as you might imagine, Dave was skeptical about.

=Even getting any sort of legal redress was nearly impossible; statute of limitation laws prevented him from filing criminal charges or even civil charges. The laws for the Statute of Limitations in child sex abuse are archaic and don’t reflect the reality that survivors rarely come forward immediately; as I mentioned earlier, it often takes decades.

Advocates like Marci Hamilton in Pennsylvania, Kathryn Robb in New York and Senator Joe Vitale in New Jersey are working to change those laws. Ironically, they are mainly opposed by Republican legislators – you know, the ones who are supposed to be tough on crime – operating at the behest of the Catholic church and insurance companies who don’t want to pay out settlements to survivors. To bring attention to those laws – which prevent survivors from bringing legal action after they turn 23 – Dave decided to bicycle from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to New York.

He chose to do so alone, feeling that the image of a lone bicyclist would be a more powerful one, but the truth be told, Dave had always felt that he was more or less alone in his struggle. The movie depicts more than just a bike ride from point A to point B; it is also a journey in which Dave meets fellow survivors and their advocates and begins to come to the realization that he is far from alone in his struggle to cope, overcome and move on.

The bicycling scenes are nicely photographed and are compelling in their own way, but the real power of the movie is in the stories of the survivors; in addition to Dave, we hear from his friend (and a co-producer on the movie) Joe Capozzi, who came forward ten years before Dave did with a similar story; Tommy Williams, a Pennsylvania teen who suffered ongoing abuse at the hands of his half-brother; Art Baselice, a police officer whose son was abused by a Catholic priest and later committed suicide, and several others.

Their stories are the emotional core of the film, and to the credit of the filmmakers they let the survivors tell their stories in their own way. There are a lot of tears and a lot of emotion, some of it cathartic. You’ll definitely want to keep several handkerchiefs handy while watching.

The directors make the curious decision to tell the story of the bike ride in a non-linear fashion, often going back months before the ride to show events even while showing events from the ride. It is jarring and doesn’t enhance the story at all; the filmmakers would have been better served to tell the story in a more linear fashion. It’s powerful enough to hold up on its own.

The movie is currently seeking distribution after making its debut on the online version of the Greenwich Film Festival earlier this year. I have no doubt that it will get that distribution and soon; this is a well-made film that has an important message to tell.  Hopefully, you’ll be seeing it on a streaming service, or at an art house or even on PBS in the near future.

REASONS TO SEE: Harrowing, heartbreaking, hopeful. Approaches the subject from different angles than other documentaries on Childhood Sexual Abuse. There is some lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the non-linear storytelling is confusing and jarring.
FAMILY VALUES: There are strong adult themes, profanity and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A peloton refers to a bike racing term in which a group of cyclists, often on the same team, cluster together for safety and protection.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/21/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Speaking the Unspeakable
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Stan & Ollie

Toxic Beauty


There is truth in beauty; there are also lies.

 (2019) Documentary (1091) Mel Lika, MyMy Nguyen, Deanne Borg, Mary Kaplan, Shaeda Farooqi, Beverly Robinson, Claudette Dupris, Emily Nguyen, Dr. Shruthi Mabaiangala. Directed by Phyllis Ellis

 

Beauty may well only be skin deep, but the products that men and women use for beauty and hygiene have effects far deeper than that in this chilling documentary. Revolving largely around the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson that claimed that the company knew that there were carcinogens in their talcum powder that were routinely used not just for baby care but also for skin care – one woman remarked that she liked to sprinkle the stuff in her bed because she like the scent, the film builds its case much like a trial lawyer – with plenty of anecdotal evidence backed up by science.

There are several compelling characters to be found in the film, among them former intelligence officer Mel Lika who found herself, once thought to be something of a superhero among her peers, stricken by ovarian cancer. Likewise was the case of Deanne Borg, the South Dakota mom who instigated the suit against Johnson and Johnson. My favorite though is med student and fashion/make-up influencer MyMy Nguyen, who was brought up to admire the European standard of beauty and was urged by her mom to lighten her skin and dye her hair blonde. When a tumor was found in her breast, rather than chalking her experience to bad luck she decided to run some tests to find up if her make-up routine was contributing to her disease. She approached it logically and thoroughly and the results that came back were definitely disturbing.

We hear from litigators, legislators, medical professionals, researchers, scientists and of course, victims. Ellis doesn’t shortchange her audience with facts, although the parade of testimony can be overwhelming, and the scientific evidence presented can be on the dry side. Some may find themselves getting glassy-eyed at times, but stick with this – it’s important stuff. Men who may be thinking “well, that’s a woman’s problem,” should think again; toxic chemicals like mercury, formaldehyde, arsenic and lead can be found in shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, deodorant and toothpaste.

Readers who live in the European Union may be pleased to know that stricter regulations there make this particular problem more of an American issue. Lobbyists and lawyers have essentially suborned the FDA and Congress into writing legislation friendly to large corporations so that they may continue to maximize profits by using less expensive materials and processes at the expense of human lives, and as we meet some of the women involved here and discover how these products that are supposed to be safe have destroyed lives and yes, taken them (one of the victims here passed away shortly after filming was completed).

There is unlikely to be any help anytime soon, particularly with the business-friendly Republicans in power. The corporations have the kind of money that buys politicians; consumers do not. The short-term solution is simple; stop buying this shit. There are clean products out there; find out what they are and start using them. If enough people start doing it, either these businesses will adjust to the new paradigm or fail. Survival of the fittest applies to consumerism as well.

This isn’t an easy documentary to watch and at times you may feel like you’re back in high school chemistry and just as clueless now about it as you were then. Hang in there; it is important that you know what you are putting on and, in your body, information big corporations (and some little ones) don’t want you to have. Knowledge is power; use it.

REASONS TO SEE: Presents a powerful case.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be guilty of overkill – some of the information presented gets a little bit dense.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scientific studies on the subject warned about toxic substances in beauty and hygiene products as far back as 1933.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  Stink!
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Olympic Dreams