Director Brian Knappenberger returns to the world of documentaries with a searing piece of work. His new short film documentary Church and the Fourth Estate follows abuse victim Adam Steed, and reporter Peter Zuckerman. Steed is a devout Mormon and Boy Scout, and Zuckerman is an Idaho reporter who received a tip via sticky note about a case that had been literally removed from the record.
Steed painfully recounts his abuse. A scout leader took advantage of their position of power during a quiet weekend at summer camp, forever scarring him. Equally disturbing is how the Scouts and church leaders encouraged Steed and his family to keep it contained within the Church of Latter-Day Saints so as not to bring shame upon their religion. Years later, reporter Zuckerman ran a series of stories outlining the incident and coverup, only to be attacked by Idaho’s richest man, Frank VanderSloot.
“…a case that had been literally removed from the record.”
Church and the Fourth Estate is a gut-wrenching account of misused oversight and the abuse of power. Knappenberger keeps a lean narrative as we follow the subjects and their battle for truth, and for sanity, consequences be damned. During one heartbreaking scene, Zukerman breaks down during deposition in his attempt to stand firm in the face of attacks, death threats, and ultimately his outing as a gay man.
Knappenberger has much more on his mind than attacking the Boy Scouts or the Church of Latter-Day Saints. This is a documentary about the abuse of trust and power. It’s a film about how at very crucial times, the forces of authority can fail in a disastrous fashion. At that moment, it is up to the victim and those supportive to speak out against the enemy.
Though a short-form documentary, Church and the Fourth Estate delivers a tremendously important message. One that speaks to the current climate on a variety of fronts. Knappenberger proves that despite the best efforts of those afraid of the truth to cover things up, the truth always prevails. Always.