Film

“What Haunts Us” Digs Into the Troubling Truth of an Abusive Coach

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It took nearly four decades, but in 1989, a teacher and coach at the prestigious Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, at last admitted to molesting dozens of boys in the 1970s and ’80s. That confession, parts of which are shown in Paige Goldberg Tolmach’s polished documentary What Haunts Us, rocked the picturesque Southern city. But for too many children, including alum Tolmach herself, the truth was no surprise. They’d known Eddie Fischer palled around with boys, let them smoke and drink, enjoined them to “drop their drawers” when treating any minor injury — and brought them home. It took a rape survivor to come forward as an adult; years before, this young man acted out to get expelled, only to have Fischer show up at his new school after his quiet firing.

Tolmach uncloaks an enabling culture. “There’s a saying in Charleston that we’re ‘too poor to paint, but too proud to whitewash,’ ” says Post and Courier reporter Tony Bartelme, who covered the story nearly twenty years ago. “Make sure the front of the house looks good but…everything else around it is peeling, and falling apart.”

Tolmach relies heavily on Bartelme’s knowledge of the story and the city. But she is thorough, talking to lawyers, classmates, and, crucially, victims (not least Guerry Glover, who finally broke things wide open), adding potent current interviews to archived video depositions. It’s a painfully familiar story in the era of #MeToo and the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal, with the added agony that parents, teachers, and school officials were, to varying degrees, complicit.

What Haunts Us
Directed by Paige Goldberg Tolmach
Now playing, Cinema Village

 

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