“At the height of his stardom, Michael Jackson began long-running relationships with two boys, aged 7 and 10, and their families,” the film’s synopsis states. “Now in their 30s, they tell the story of how they were sexually abused by Jackson, and how they came to terms with it years later.”
The two-part, 233-minute Leaving Neverland, named after Jackson’s famed California ranch, will receive its world premiere as part of the festival’s Special Events category before airing on HBO this spring.
In a release, the filmmakers confirmed the accusers featured in the film as choreographer Wade Robson, the now-36-year-old who filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against Jackson in 2013 claiming Jackson molested him when he was seven years old, and James Safechuck, Jackson’s companion as a child who sued Jackson’s estate over sexual abuse claims. Both Robson’s and Safechuck’s lawsuit were dismissed in 2017. The film interviews both accusers alongside their wives, mothers and siblings.
Dan Reed, who previously helmed the documentaries The Pedophile Hunters and Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks, directed and produced Leaving Neverland. “If there’s anything we’ve learned during this time in our history, it’s that sexual abuse is complicated, and survivors’ voices need to be listened to,” Reed said in a statement. “It took great courage for these two men to tell their stories and I have no question about their validity. I believe anyone who watches this film will see and feel the emotional toll on the men and their families and will appreciate the strength it takes to confront long-held secrets.”
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” a rep for the estate said. “Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception,’ filed lawsuits against Michael’s estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed. 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.”
In addition to Leaving Neverland, Sundance also added The Brink, a documentary about Steve Bannon’s time in the Trump White House, to its 2019 slate. This year’s Sundance runs from January 24th to February 4th in Utah.