Ted Patrick claims to have deprogrammed 1600 individuals who were “brainwashed” by various cults and fake prophets. It is quite an astonishing accomplishment for a man who lacks any formal education in psychology, but has a self-proclaimed doctorate in “common sense.” Given the nickname “Black Lighting” for the swift way he abducts his subjects off the street, Patrick’s unethical methods have been the subject of controversy for years. In her latest documentary, Deprogrammed, Mia Donovan examines whether Ted Patrick is truly a hero or merely a villain on par with those he rallies against?
Donovan’s film paints a compelling narrative regarding personal rights and free will. She takes us back to an era gripped by paranoia, fear and political corruption. A time where the youth, who were fed up with The Vietnam War and a crooked government, found solace in the counter culture alternative religions provided. Deprogrammed, ponders whether or not there are limits to what we claim to be our given right. Should the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of the mind be revoked when it comes to organizations that promote assimilation instead of individual growth? If so, who has the authority to make such a decision?
Through interviews with several of the individuals that Patrick “saved”, and the famed deprogrammer himself, Deprogrammed crafts a complex image of Patrick that offers no easy answers. As if waging a solo war on a long history of false religions, Patrick speaks of his time in prison – and the numerous lawsuits against him – with the confidence of a general commented on his various medals of honor. While his “they can’t keep me down” spirit is captivating, the harsh nature of his methods cannot be ignored. One of the dissenting voices against the famed deprogrammer – a man who endured Patrick’s ‘deprogramming” – questions if Patrick’s method actually works? Commenting that, after being physically confined against his will for four days, he simply told Patrick what he wanted to hear and was instantly deemed to be “cured.”
By observing the detailed and intricate rise of cults throughout history – Patrick points out that crooked preachers were conning the poor black community long before alternative religions reached white America in the 1960s – it is hard not to see comparisons to modern organizations, such as ISIS, who employ many of the same recruitment tactics. Similar to Donovan, the audience is left to contemplate if Patrick’s groundbreaking and unethical methods, which some consider to have provided the framework for modern day interventions, were justifiable considering the lives that were at stake. Do personal rights and free will have its limits? Patrick would clearly argue that they do. Viewers of the film, on the other hand, will not find the answer to that question to be as clear cut.
Thursday, April 30, 9:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.