HBO’s controversial Michael Jackson documentary “Leaving Neverland” made its debut on Friday, Jan. 25, at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and local police were reportedly prepared for protests.
The film, which details the allegations of two men who claim they were sexually molested by the “Thriller” singer when they were children, is expected to be greeted with demonstrations by angry fans, who insist the film is simply cashing in on the late singer by assassinating his character.
“We have increased our staffing out of concerns for the potential for a protest,” Captain Phil Kirk of the Park City Police told Deadline.
However, Deadline also reports that “anonymous sources” claim that there have been “direct threats” made against the film’s director, Dan Reed, and that police are more concerned with “a potential incident inside the Egyptian Theatre” (where the film will screen) than protests on the street.
“Tensions are higher for this movie than anything I’ve ever seen at Sundance before,” a law-enforcement source told Deadline. “No one is going to be prevented from exercising their constitutional rights but we are not going to allow this to get out of hand in any way.”
Deadline reporter Dominic Patten shared a photo on Instagram of protesters beginning beginning to mobilize.
While protesters may have demonstrated, film fans at the festival reportedly gave the subjects of “Leaving Neverland” a standing ovation during a Q&A on Friday, reports Deadline.
With a heavy police presence in the lobby, director Dan Reed was joined by the film’s subjects, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, to take questions from the audience.
“I don’t feel that like there is anything I need to say to them except that I understand that it is really hard for them to believe,” Robson said of the protesters. “Even though it happened to me I still couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing, so I understand… What happened, happened.”
In addition, Safechuck insisted “there was no money ever offered” to him and Robson for sharing their allegations of being sexually abused by Jackson. “This was really just trying to tell the story,” he said, adding his intention is “to shine a light” on sexual abuse of children and what can be done to stop it.
Since the doc was first announced, “Leaving Neverland” has been mired in controversy, with Jackson’s estate blasting the film.
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” reads the statement. “[Accusers] Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Sundance, however, issued a statement of its own, defending the festival’s decision to screen the documentary. “Sundance Institute supports artists in enabling them to fully tell bold, independent stories, stories on topics which can be provocative or challenging. We look forward to audiences at the Festival seeing these films and judging the work for themselves, and discussing it afterwards.”
Meanwhile, Wade Robson, one of the accusers featured in the film, spoke with TMZ about “Leaving Neverland”, and insisted he was “excited about the possible positive impact of the film for other survivors of child abuse.” Watch:
“Finding Neverland” will air on HBO later this year.