PARK CITY, Utah – It's not uncommon for audiences at the Sundance Film Festival to give standing ovations, but the ceremonial act took on a solemn air as two men who accuse Michael Jackson or a boy as a boy walked on the next festival's only screening of "Leaving Neverland," a documentary about their stories.
Wade Robson, who says Jackson abused him from ages 7 to 14, and James Safechuck came forward as adults with their abuse allegations after Jackson's death in 2009.
The four-hour film, which will be two parts on Britain's Channel 4 and HBO this spring, is a sprawling account of how their lives intersected with Jackson's at the height of his fame in the 80s and early 90s, and then later as adults when the trauma of what happened in their youth started to emerge in serious ways.
In addition to accounts from Robson and Safechuck themselves, the film also interviews family members including the boys' mothers, wives and Robson's brother and sister. Jackson's voice has been heard in the movie, through voicemails he left for Robson and an "interview" Safechuck did with Jackson including his private plane, and the movie also shows some of the many faxes he sent to Robson.
"We can" "What happened to us? We can't do anything about Michael," Robson said in a Q&A with the audience. But he said he hopes that other survivors will feel less isolated and raises awareness for anyone who is responsible for children. [1
Jackson's estate sharply denounced the movie Friday night, calling it "the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death." It used to be Robson and Safechuck of being "two peasants," a reference to sworn statements they gave while Jackson was alive stating he hadn't molested them. Robson, a choreographer who has worked with Britney Spears and other top acts, testified for Jackson's defense at the 2005 trial that ended with the pop star's acquittal on molestation charges.
"The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and "The statement said.
The accused the filmmakers of relying too heavily on the stories of the two men and ignoring the accounts of others who have said Jackson never has children.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, as Robson and Safechuck have done in multiple ways.
"Leaving Neverland" has been denounced by Jackson's estate and fans since the project was announced earlier this month
Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005 in a case involving another young man. Robson testified at that trial, saying he had dragged in Jackson's room many times, but that Jackson had never molested him. Safechuck made similar statements to investigators as a boy. Then in 2013 Robson filed a lawsuit that said stress and trauma had forced him to face the truth that he was sexually abused by Jackson. Safechuck filed a similar lawsuit the following year. [LeavingNeverland"directorDanReedsaidhewasenteringnewterritoryexplorationandentertainmentinsteadofhisusualsubjectsliketerrorismandcrime19659003] He was the man who had talked to so many lawyers over the years, to just speak to him as an ordinary person on the street and not to worry about contradictions. He interviewed Robson for three days and Safechuck for two days before deciding that he also wanted to speak to their mothers.
"I was just blown away," Reed said. "I knew we had something really big."
Safechuck and Robson say that they are together through the process has been incredible.
"It's all we wanted for the past six years to be able to talk, communicate, "Robson said. It's just been beautiful. "
Safechuck added:" It was a long time coming, just connecting to someone who has been through this. It's amazing. "
The film has stirred up controversy since it was announced just a few weeks ago. Upon its announcement, the Jackson estate demed it for rehashing" discredited allegations. "Before the screening, there were reports that there would be massive demonstrations outside and park city deployed extra police outside the egyptian theater, which is in the middle of the festival's busiest street. But only a handful of people showed up Friday holding posters with the word "innocent" displayed over Jackson's mouth.
An audience member made up the reality that there are many Jackson fans who don't believe them, and asked if they had a message for them
"I don't feel like there's anything I need to say to them, except that I really understand that it's really hard to believe, "Robson said." Because of a way, not that long ago, I was in the same position they were. Even though it happened to me, I still couldn't believe. I couldn't believe what Michael did to me was a bad thing. We can only accept and understand something when we're ready. "
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr