A filmmaker who has spent almost six years in Argentina had his documentary about an exorcist commissioned by the BBC. 
Exorcism: The Battle for Young Minds, by 29 year old Andrew Gold, shows the rituals performed by a priest who Andrew calls “corrupt and abusive”. It is now available to watch online via BBC3. 

I spoke to him to find out more about the film and his career so far…

Harrow Times:

Where do you live and where did you study?

I’ve been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before that I was in Medellin (Colombia), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Bordeaux (France), picking up languages.

I was born in Watford General Hospital and spent my first nine years in Elstree before our family moved to Carpenders Park. I went to St John’s School, Northwood and then Merchant Taylors. Then I went to the University of Leeds, where I studied English Literature.

Where did your interest in film start?

I’ve always loved watching movies. As a teenager, I used to pop to Harrow or Watford Garston once or twice a week with a friend - we called it Cinema Club, but it was just the two of us and wasn’t really much of a club.

When I was 19, a friend introduced me to the works of Louis Theroux…I just binge-watched his entire collection and thought, ‘I can do that’.

How did you get into filmmaking?

I got out of university and got a job working nights at the Sun Online. With Theroux-esque ambitions on the brain, I kept asking the online editor if I could make some videos for the website - this was 2012 and they were just starting to get into videos. He kept saying no, but I asked one of the sub editors if he’d mind taking out The Sun’s cameras and filming me. It had to be something a little superficial and innocuous to work for The Sun - so we filmed me going around Covent Garden seeing how easy it was to get a date on Valentine’s Day.

When did you first hear about the priest and what were your thoughts?

I first heard about him about three years ago. A friend and I had been researching all sorts of strange and controversial figures, from Nazi descendants in Patagonia to porn stars and witches. Manuel was such an intriguing character though, because I’d never before met a priest who was so interested in the media.

I’d turn the TV on and there he was chatting with models and celebrities about the power of demons and Satan. I knew he’d give us great access, because he wanted people to be talking about his work.

When I got in touch he seemed really excited by the prospect of an international film crew following him around.

Harrow Times:

What were the biggest things you learned throughout your time with him?

The main thing I learned was how dangerous and upsetting the whole exorcism world is. Like most people, I’d always thought it was scary in movies and silly and funny in real life. I still believe it is silly - I’m staunchly secular and don’t believe in anything paranormal - but I found a lot of our filming really sad and difficult.

Why do you think these practices remain so popular there?

Firstly, Argentina - like many Latin American countries - is very traditional and Catholic. So you also see these kind of things in Ireland and the Vatican.

Ironically, Buenos Aires is known as the world capital of therapy - everyone sees a therapist. But if you hop on a 45 minute train to the impoverished suburbs, you’re in a different world. There, mental health is a taboo topic and people are superstitious.

There was a 17-year-old suicidal girl who didn’t know anyone who’d ever had mental health issues. So it was natural for her to believe it must be paranormal. The other thing is that the exorcisms actually work - temporarily - as a catharsis or a form of theatrical therapy. Later, the symptoms come back - whether depression, schizophrenia or hearing voices - but the other church followers don’t see that part.

Were there moments where you were scared for people’s lives or for your own?

Every day of filming I worried I might get a call saying our young interviewee had taken her own life. She’s such a sweet and friendly person, it would have been absolutely heart-breaking.

As for me and our one or two crew members, absolutely. Towards the end of the documentary, there’s a big ‘fight scene’ where the Padre takes me into a room and berates me for an hour (condensed to a couple of minutes for the film).

He’s a diminutive fellow himself, but he hangs around with a couple of big guys - one of whom carries a great big staff around and he had hundreds of devotees at the church that night that he’d worked up into a frenzy. I just remember trying to stop my legs from shaking like crazy.

We got out of there ok and then David Hayes, my friend and director, told me he’d - for the first time ever - forgotten to record me leaving the church. We had to go back in (stared at by hundreds of pairs of angry eyes) and film me leaving again.

What do you hope will come from the documentary?

I personally am not a fan of exorcism as a means of treating those with mental health issues - and the doctors I spoke to were strongly opposed to it. So I’d like to hope that the documentary will help raise awareness about pseudo-religious rituals.

How did you get a place on the BBC secured?

After editing the film with my director David, I spent the next couple of years trying to get in touch with commissioners (I found or guessed their emails from Linkedin). It’s just a case of getting lucky and finding someone that has enough time - these people are so, so busy, they send you emails at 2am because they’re always working.

It took a while to get someone at the BBC to watch it, but when they did, they wanted it - which is a testament to the film I hope.

What’s next for you?

It’s all busy at the moment; I’m looking to meet agents and commissioners while I’m back in the UK over the next few weeks. Last month, I put another crew together in Buenos Aires to make a new film about abortion. It’s come out just as crazy, weird and unsettling as the exorcist documentary.

After that, I want to move back to Europe and see if I can carve out a full-time career as a filmmaker and presenter. It’s something I really love doing.