British Columbia, 1976. Following a miscarriage, Michelle has a terrifying dream and consults psychiatrist Dr. Pazder. Under hypnosis, she recalls horrific events from her childhood – memories of debauchery, human sacrifice and satanic cults long buried in the deepest recesses of her mind. Pazder records their sessions and the two co-author a book. When several children describe similar incidents of satanic abuse, teachers of the family-run McMartin preschool are arrested. After one child describes secret tunnels beneath the McMartin school, some parents dig up the grounds but are unable to find evidence. A young mother is torn between disbelief and the convincing accounts of the children. By the time Michelle appears on Oprah, hundreds of testimonies are surfacing in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. A global hysteria ensues, leading to the longest criminal trial in United States history. A battle for truth – in psychiatry, law enforcement, mass media and popular culture – proves elusive.
"Michelle Remembers" weaves together the complex threads that led to one of the most infamous moral panics of the previous century. Since beginning research, the film’s core topics – the ways in which cultural, political and professional systems work to control women, the rise of conservatism and fake news – have grown only more urgent. As a woman who grew up amidst a contested feminist landscape, I wish to explore how the panic was experienced through the lens of three characters: a woman in therapy, a mother and a woman falsely accused. The three women represent distinct vantage points, but the film will explore their shared struggles, the persistent tug of traumas past and present and a societal pressure to conform. Each woman is seeking the truth, but their paths (therapy, the legal system and religion) prove definitive truth elusive. Through archive, CGI and reconstruction, the film questions what constitutes memory and explores the part of ourselves most susceptible to fear.
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