Andrew Barnsley’s new film, Prey, is timely as allegations of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests come to the forefront.
By Kevin Ritchie
Up until about five years ago, Andrew Barnsley was part of what he calls the “sleeping masses.”
As a page in the Canadian Senate for two years in the mid-90s, Barnsley got the whole Parliament Hill experience and he is happy to report it changed his view of the stereotypical lazy, unreliable politician. “It was not as scandalous as people think it would be,” he says. “It really shattered the myth that these people don’t show up for work.”
Shattering preconceived notions about our social institutions is an underlying message in Prey, a yet to be released indie movie produced by Barnsley, a Ryerson masters in communications student. Although, the film shattered Barnsley’s views of the priesthood for the worse.
As producer, he handled the finances, managed props, costumes, negotiated cheap deals for equipment, hired actors and oversaw 150 volunteers (mostly film students at the University of Windsor) and made sure everyone ate. He also helped raise funds for the $500,000 budget and scored a $100,000 loan from Telefilm Canada. He did most of this during the 30-day shoot last February from a one-man production office in Windsor.
One sunny Thursday in Oakham House’s stuffy basement bar, Barnsley says his Ottawa experience changed his pinion of big time politicos for the better. But producing Prey opened his eyes to a serious issue that many people are quick to sweep under the rug.
“When you say the words ‘alter boy,’ there’s a resonance to them that’s been tainted,” he says. “Because they’re associated with abuse.”
Prey is about a mysterious drifter posing as an artist who finds work restoring a run-down church. It’s later revealed that the church has a disturbing history of child abuse. The drifter proceeds to seek revenge on the clergy who abused him.
“Abuse in the church is out there but nobody wants to talk about it,” Barnsley says. “But this is a serious issue. People are more concerned about protecting the church than they are the kids.”
The idea for the film came from television writer Eagon Pogue, whom Barnsley met while interning on the CBC show Jonovision. Pogue, Prey’s writer and director, had the idea knocking about in his brain for 10 years before he approached the 27-year-old communications and culture student. Barnsley kept running into Pogue and the two became friends.
Barnsley, who has Bas in psychology and film and a bachelor of education, acquainted himself with the art of television while working towards a degree in radio and television arts at Ryerson. But Prey marks his first shot at film production, a challenge he was a bit nervous to take on.
Most of the film was shot in and around an abandoned church in Windsor, Ontario. The crew even built a bungalow, one of the main set pieces, in a gymnasium within the church. Barnsley says they were really lucky to find a large, and more importantly, empty church to film their story of abuse and revenge. “I probably would’ve felt a bit weird if it was a functional church.”
Right now, he’s busy putting final touches on the movie, shopping it around to distributors and scraping money together so he can start doing publicity. He’s hoping the timelines of the subject matter helps broaden the film’s appeal.
Earlier this month, the Vatican announced a controversial set of rules to deal with sexual misconduct among clergymen. The Vatican courts (staffed exclusively by priests) will handle pedophilia cases after a low-key investigation. Vatican insiders fear the secret nature of the investigations will lead to cover-ups. According to CNN’s website, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter estimates the Catholic Church has paid $1 billion to settle sexual abuse lawsuits.
“This film would open a whole can of worms,” Barnsley says. “It puts the issue on the table.”