Unmasking Evil: Filmmakers Expose Horrific Truth in ‘Gosnell’ Movie
Producer Phelim McAleer discusses new movie about notorious Philadelphia abortionist.
Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer — in theaters Oct. 12 — is one of the most successfully crowdfunded films in history. Almost 30,000 people donated more than $2.3 million in just 45 days to support the making of the film.
The movie is based on The New York Times best-selling book Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer, written by producers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, about Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the West Philadelphia abortionist accused of murdering a woman and three babies who were born alive after surviving abortions, who was found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of those three babies.
Originally from Ireland but now residing in Venice, California, the husband-and-wife team behind the movie are best-selling author, journalist, film producer and director McElhinney and McAleer, a producer, veteran investigative journalist and playwright.
Register correspondent K.V. Turley caught up with McAleer via email.
When did you become aware of the Gosnell case?
I was in Pennsylvania promoting my documentary FrackNation. I was in Philadelphia with a few days off between screenings. I saw in the local newspapers that there was this interesting court case going on. As a journalist, I have a bad affliction in that I’m addicted to news — so, on my days off, I decided to go and sit in on a court case. When I got down there, I saw some of the most shocking photographs I’ve ever seen and heard some of the most shocking evidence I’ve ever seen; but what was just as shocking was behind me — the virtually empty press benches. This was a story that the media was deliberately choosing not to cover because they didn’t want a negative spotlight on abortion.
You wrote an excellent book on the case. Why is there a need for a film?
The book is detailed and tough. The film is much more palatable — much more accessible. We deliberately made it PG-13 so that it could have a wide audience. We made sure there was nothing [visually] disturbing, but that the truth about this story was told.
Why did you crowdfund Gosnell: America's Biggest Serial Killer?
Because Hollywood would never fund this type of true story — it tells a truth they don’t want to expose. They may give themselves lots of awards for being brave, but their idea of being brave is producing content that all their friends agree with.
You have been living with this horror story for some time now. What has been its impact on you?
It has been very disturbing, but it has also been an honor to tell this story. Not just the Gosnell story — many of his victims only lived for a few minutes, but their brief lives have had more impact than many people who have lived three score and 10. We want to amplify those brief lives so they can continue to impact.
You actually met Gosnell, right? What was that experience like?
It was a deeply creepy experience. He is very relaxed, very plausible. He has a wonderful life [in prison]. His biggest problem is that he failed to get into the poetry class because it is over subscribed. He put his hand on Ann’s knee numerous times. He believes he is innocent and will be vindicated by history. However, we noticed him lying several times when he thought we didn’t know much about the case; so if he is innocent, you would wonder why he is lying.
You are investigative journalists. Did it feel like a big leap from that to becoming film producers?
We had made a lot of documentaries, so that helped. Journalism is about telling stories, so a movie is just a different way to tell a story.
Was this your first feature-film screenplay? What films influenced your screen telling of the Gosnell story?
We wanted Gosnell to look like every other crime movie so that it would be attractive to the vast audience that loves crime stories and loves true crime and courtroom dramas.
Did the fact that you were Irish and not American make any difference reporting this story and, subsequently, making the film?
I think the fact that we were not pro-life activists was important. We came at it as a story, not a cause; so it means the movie is not didactic or preachy or hitting people over the head.
What do you hope to achieve with Gosnell: America’s Biggest Serial Killer?
That it will be successful and people will learn the truth; and if it is successful, then we get to make more movies.
K.V. Turley writes from London.