Bill Maloney, “Sun, Sea & Satan” (2008)
A highly impassioned film on child abuse in a care home in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel near the French coast, this is a very brave work by Bill Maloney, an independent film director who himself was brought up in a care home and whose siblings were also brought up in care. Maloney did not suffer any physical and sexual abuse but his siblings did and he has devoted much of his film career documenting child abuse in an uncompromising and often blunt way. The focus of this documentary is on the abuse of children at a care institution, Haut de la Garonne, on Jersey Island – abuse that may have included bizarre regular child sacrifice rituals and the burning of children’s bodies. In the course of his investigations, Maloney runs up against community indifference and fear, and the Jersey government’s hostility towards those wanting to reveal the truth.
The film follows no clear structure: we are introduced to Haut de la Garonne, the foster care home, and St Saviours Hospital, a mental asylum, where many victims were chosen and “disappeared”. Maloney gives a quick sketch of the structure of government in Jersey which appears a quaintly antiquated institution, answerable only to the Crown and not to Parliament or British law, and is dominated by a few personalities who appear to wield considerable influence over law and order across the island. The camera crew (one or two members) breathlessly follows Maloney as he zips around the island in his car and rants about what he finds. At times Maloney works himself up so much by what he says that he gives way to shouting outbursts and must stop the car to regain his breath and calm himself down. As a result the film jumps from one location to another, sometimes revisiting the same spot two or three times, and a sense of being trapped, of being in a suffocating and isolated environment (possibly intentionally on Maloney’s part) is very strong.
Television reports and taped interviews with police, local Jersey politicians including Jersey Senator Stuart Syvret and investigators are inserted into the documentary to back up Maloney’s findings. Information titles also appear in parts of the film, especially near the beginning. Maloney and another interviewer attempt to canvass Jersey residents’ views on the child abuse scandal and meet a huge wall of apathy, resignation and helplessness.
Maloney’s confrontational style might leave viewers gasping in its wake and some people might find him overbearing and over-the-top but he comes across as genuine and passionate about his cause. He takes care not to risk his life or the lives of his film crew. The film’s scope and pace give no room to delineating much about Jersey’s society and culture but viewers do get some impression of the beauty of the island’s natural state and the stark contrast of its landscapes and beaches with the unhealthy and highly dictatorial society that to me resembles a cult with its secrecy, its networks and the power and oppression it exercises over the people living there.
Viewers might complain that the film tends to be more about Maloney and his mouthing off but the scope and corruption of what he investigates here may be such that even today surviving victims of the Jersey child abuse scandal may be too frightened to speak out. As for those who might doubt Maloney’s claims about the scandal and what they say about Jersey Island’s government and culture, I daresay that where there is smoke of the kind Maloney has found, there will be fire that sends up more smoke clouds of other forms of corruption such as financial corruption (see this link at Nicholas Shaxson’s “Treasure Islands” blog for example), and the same people will be involved in all those corrupt activities.