The Tribunal – Reviews

There are plenty of good reviews out there, but we’re posting this bad Amazon Review with Filmmaker’s Response, because it’s hard to find the response on Amazon’s website.

By Tech Mom on September 17, 2017

Terrible acting, low budget movie, poor music, not aligned with how a Tribunal actually works in the Catholic Church, even the Confession scene wasn’t accurate which would have been so easy to do well.

Started watching movie with a priest friend who turned it off after 5 minutes due to poor acting. Started it again with another Catholic friend tonight and watched entire movie. The buffering timed out requiring a resume of the movie and friend said “God is merciful for turning this off in the middle”. He went back to reading his book and occasionally stopped to make jokes about the terrible acting.

Very slim plot, not true to Catholic teaching, and overall a waste of time.

Three main characters, two guys and a girl all who seemed to be in their first acting role Both men were in love with the young woman, and the one intending to marry her had the other as a Tribunal witness. The men were in a band and one was a song writer. The music they played was like listening to a high school band who can’t write songs.

It was really bad.

I am in the middle of a Tribunal case and know a great deal about how these cases are handled. Even the older adult actors were bland and unconvincing.

It was really bad, and I only watched it to the end to see if there was anything interesting towards the end. There wasn’t.

Filmmaker’s Response:

Let’s separate some facts from opinions. It’s perfectly OK to say you don’t like the acting or the music or the production values (the movie is an “indie” low budget feature because a Catholic story like this would never be made by a Hollywood Studio in today’s environment). But the claim that you are in the middle of a Tribunal case and know a great deal about how these cases are handled both misses the point of the movie, and is ignorant of the fact that the Tribunal process varies from diocese to diocese (we used parts of Sioux City’s and Fargo’s diocesan processes that were available online a decade ago, as well as direct feedback from the archdiocese of Cincinnati). It’s true, in most diocese the tribunal process is handled by bureaucratic affidavit and it’s quite sterile. But some diocese actually have an open court with 3 trained priests and the participants are permitted to have their say. In these diocese they’ve made the decision that open court is part of the healing process for the parties. Arguing that you are in a case and therefore know all about it is not only ignorant of the truth in other diocese but sounds like sour grapes about your personal situation as well.

There is no more claim that this is a documentary about the annulment process than “For A Few Good Men” is a documentary about courts martial. “The Tribunal” is a drama about love, self-sacrifice and obedience to God, not a how-to manual for getting out of your vows because you’re lonely and want someone else to sleep with.

With much canonical coaching we made the decision to stay true to the reasons required for an annulment while taking dramatic license with the format. Even at that, we tried to make it clear this was not the way a Tribunal works by explaining in the dialogue that certain people were normally not supposed to be in the same room together but had special permission from the Bishop to be there. And without the participants in the same room there would be no drama and no story.

Furthermore, we made a clear disclaimer in the ending credits that this was not the way a true tribunal works and anyone who felt called to seek a Declaration of Nullity should contact their diocese or their parish pastor. Unfortunately, the most vociferous blowback about the movie has been from people who consider annulments to be their special private area of expertise, completely missing the point of the movie. The annulment in “The Tribunal” is the McGuffin (look it up) and not the point of the story. Just as a real court case never happens in the real world the way it does in a courtroom drama on TV or in a film, “The Tribunal” doesn’t happen the way most annulments occur either. Nevertheless it adheres to the teachings of the Catholic Church in its substance, and was thoroughly vetted by multiple priests and canonical counselors, advocates for petitioners and archdiocesan tribunal staffers before the script was finalized. It took 12 years and $3M to bring this film to fruition, so let’s get the facts straight. Then if you just don’t like the performances or the story or the music or the way we’re bothering your conscience, that’s fine.

Oh, and I’ve also heard from people who know all about annulments, that this will discourage people from seeking an annulment because it’s too dramatic. Seriously? If this were true no one would ever go to court because someone might yell, “You can’t handle the truth!” We, on the other hand, believe that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than our human shortcomings in telling this story and He can manage to invite people back to God in spite of us. If “the Tribunal” stops them, they weren’t very serious about answering that call to return and be healed.

As for the plot, sorry it was so slim, since it was based on the true facts of a real story and not contrived. Oh, and the confession that you said wasn’t accurate was read verbatim from the card in the confessional at the Holy Spirit Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. We had the normal “Bless me, Father” form in the script originally but our religious script adviser and Director of the Holy Spirit Center suggested we use the format they’re teaching today to enlighten people that there are different valid formats for the sacrament.

I’m glad you felt better panning “The Tribunal” and I apologize for failing to entertain you or enlighten you. I will personally be happy to refund your money in full if you contact me with your name and mailing address at our email info@stmichaelmovies.com.

Mike Mergler – Executive Producer, Screenwriter and Songwriter – “The Tribunal”