LEAVE NO TRACE (Tribeca 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

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When Norman Rockwell began his long association with the Boy Scouts of America, he couldn’t possibly have imagined how much his romanticized, clean-cut, patriotic representation of the organization would aid in building a system tailor-made for pedophiles. The dozens of art images shown as part of the new documentary Leave No Trace are only one way filmmaker Irene Taylor lays out how the once storied, now infamous boy’s club promoted and branded itself as a safe, wholesome way to create a strong, healthy, loyal, and obedient young man. Leave No Trace recounts, often in shocking ways, just how far from the truth that really is, and has been nearly from their inception. Only in February 2022, the Boy Scouts of America reached a 2.7 billion agreement over sexual abuses that occurred over decades.

A number of victims speak of their experiences, and with their personal stories span from the 1950s to the new millennium. Hearing their stories, and the pain caused to them and to the families who thought the Boy Scouts would be a good thing, is heart wrenching. In all of these interviews, though the interviewer is off-screen, it’s clear they are approaching the subject with sensitivity and respect, because those speaking share intimate details and reveal their feelings of shame, anger, and pain with heartbreaking candor.

The most shocking information is that, like the Roman Catholic Church, the BSA knew about the abuses but did nothing beyond firing those involved. As one insider explains, the organization has hundreds of files on “ineligible volunteers”, who have been accused of sexual abuse, or even confessed to wrongdoing. These files were kept confidential, and never shared with the police or community. One such file had 917 pages of allegations. The BSA always dealt with these abusers internally, with one man, Paul Ernst, known as the “keeper of secrets”, even going so far as to say “We didn’t want to do that to those individuals.” Much like the Roman Catholic Church, which just moved priests accused of abuse to other parishes, the BSA routinely offered perpetrators a second chance. Another shock in the documentary is witnessing a man who had worked for the non-profit for decades and was in charge of an abuse task force, subsequently put in prison for child pornography. When he gets out, he’ll still receive his pension from the BSA. How this non-profit handled the money they made, which was in the billions every year, is maddening.

People paying attention to LGBTQ issues will remember when the Boy Scouts forbad membership to gay men. In retrospect, it seems the BSA was more concerned with keeping gay men out of the Scouts than they were with solving their pedophilia problem.

Leave No Trace is not an easy watch, and as potential audiences may imagine. It relies heavily on interviews with victims, but the stories they recount will stay with viewers. It also might possibly make parents think twice about the next time their kids enthusiastically buy into a camp or training workshop. Growth experiences should be something that expands a child’s understanding, not destroy their chances at a joyful future.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website, CinemaSiren.com, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's TheCredits.org, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at AWFJ.org. Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.