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A&E IndieFilms has commissioned an untitled documentary about the hot-button topic of faith healing.
Tom Dumican will direct the film from Pulse Films (American Honey, The Witch) that follows a religious sect in Idaho whose members reject professional medical care and turn to prayer, laying on hands and anointing with oil to heal the sick — including children. In Idaho, coroner’s records reveal 12 child deaths between 2011-14 in the community of faith healers known as the Followers of Christ. The Governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk report for the same period confirms 10 of those child deaths were caused by treatable conditions, but medical treatment was not sought. Due to Idaho’s religious shield laws, there have been no prosecutions.
“This film raises fascinating issues on the very fabric of our country — such as the separation of church and state and what the role of government is in protecting its citizens,” said Molly Thompson, senior vp feature films at A+E Networks. “We’re very excited about the work Pulse is doing.”
Jesse Lichtenstein developed the film with Dumican, who is making his feature directing debut, and will serve as producer. Emma Cooper is the executive producer for Pulse. Thompson, Elaine Frontain Bryant and Robert Sharenow are executive producers for A&E IndieFilms.
The film will center on Dan Sevy and his family, who look to the state legislature to defend their right to reject medical treatment for their children under Idaho’s religious shield laws. Sevy is a member of the Followers of Christ and has become the public face of faith healing in Idaho. He and his wife lost two sons, Gabriel in 2008 and Rockwell in 2011.
Canyon County Sherriff Kieran Donahue has led an effort to investigate the deaths and prosecute parents, including Sevy, for neglect for failing to seek medical help for sick children. The county recently saw three questionable deaths in four months, between November 2016 and March 2017.
The film will depict Idaho’s political and ideological struggle over religious shield laws in real time and feature interviews with active and former church members, law enforcement personnel and activists from Idaho and Oregon, where religious shield laws have been repealed leading to high-profile convictions for manslaughter in faith healing cases.
“This film is a study of a part of the American religious psyche told through the eyes of the believers, survivors, law enforcement and politicians who walk the blurred lines between church, state, personal freedom and children’s rights,” said Dumican.
A&E IndieFilms is the feature documentary production arm of A+E Studios whose recent projects include the recent best documentary Oscar nominees Life, Animated (from Roger Ross Williams) and Cartel Land (from Matthew Heineman). Upcoming releases include Heineman’s City of Ghosts and Erik Nelson’s A Gray State.
Founded by Thomas Benski and Marisa Clifford in 2005, Pulse Films also produced such projects as Kahlil Joseph and Beyonce’s Emmy-nominated Lemonade and Don’t Stop, an upcoming 10-part series for Sky. Last year, VICE media acquired a majority stake in Pulse.
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