The power of faith to heal – and hurt – is dramatised with bruising compassion in Jake Mahaffy’s Venice-prizewinning tale set within a Memphis storefront church congregation.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
The faith healer under the microscope of US-born, New Zealand-based filmmaker Jake Mahaffy’s powerful Southern drama is neither charlatan nor evangelist, but simply a man convinced of his spiritual powers. That his journey, based on the outcome of a real-life faith healing incident, brings into acute focus the responsibility of institutions towards the vulnerable and their dysfunction in times of great need, is one of the triumphs of this clear-eyed film. Abe, played intensely by English actor David Harewood, seeks a complex redemption in first the storefront churches of Memphis, Tennessee, and then later in the desperate single mother of an autistic boy failed repeatedly by the system.
Like Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses (NZIFF15), Mahaffy’s take on the tension between spiritual and medical practice is at once respectful and tough-minded, an evenhandedness echoed in the high-impact yet carefully measured performances he has directed. Co-funded by the New Zealand Film Commission and duly rewarded with Best Film in the Horizons section at Venice last year, Free in Deed never loses sight of the humanity of its characters – or the place of religion in marginalised communities, specifically those in African-American society – beneath the needless tragedy it distressingly portrays. — Tim Wong
“Mahaffy’s uncompromising approach, and the quality of its performances, make [Free in Deed] a rare and valuable testament: to the terrible danger of believing in miracles, and to the cruelty of a world that might make such belief necessary.” — Jessica Kiang, The Playlist