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Sister Dorothy documentary premieres to standing room onl crowd

The HBO documentary, “They Killed Sister Dorothy,” premiered before a sold-out, rapt audience of more than 500 at the Dayton Art Institute Thursday, March 19, with the filmmaker and Sister Dorothy Stang’s family proudly in attendance.

“She was embraced as a sister by the Dayton community tonight,” said Sister Dorothy’s youngest brother, David Stang, whose fight for justice is one of the film’s most powerful storylines.

“We are a Dayton family,” said her sister, Barbara Richardson, after the screening. “We are Dayton through and through.”

Dorothy Stang, a nun with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, spent her life working on behalf of peasant farmers in the Amazon rain forest. She was murdered on Feb. 12, 2005, in what is largely believed to be a contract killing sponsored by wealthy ranchers in the area who opposed her sustainable development project. She was 73.

Director Daniel Junge, a documentarian who chronicles issues of social justice, sensitively tells the story of Sister Dorothy’s life work, her murder, and what often seems a futile fight to bring justice to the wealthy landowners believed responsible for her death. To date, three men are serving sentences for the killing — two who were present at her murder and one so-called middleman; one of the two ranchers was found guilty, then released after a second trial found him not guilty, while the other rancher has not been tried.

Junge and HBO Documentary Films — “They Killed Sister Dorothy” debuts on HBO2 Wednesday, March 25 at 8 p.m. — thought it natural to premiere the film in Sister Dorothy’s hometown. Junge and Greg Rhem, manager of HBO’s documentary acquisition, were beaming after the screening.

“How could it not go well?” said Junge. “The HBO people are sincere when they talk about how the people (in Dayton) were so excited, so gracious. The community has been wonderful.”

The premiere was brought about through a collaboration with HBO, Film Dayton, and the University of Dayton Human Rights program.

“We helped make this happen,” said Lisa Grigsby of Film Dayton, a volunteer group working to promote the growth of a regional film industry. “It never would have happened otherwise.”

A Q&A session after the screening drew many requests for information on how to continue Sister Dorothy’s work in the Amazon. Junge directed people to www.theykilledsisterdorothy.com, where links provide information on ways to help; a fellow Sister of Notre Dame de Namur told the crowd that Springfield’s St. Raphael parish, 225 E. High St., is committed to continuing her work in the rain forest.

“This film is bearing witness to the world,” said David Stang. “The story has not ended. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

“Dot has given them courage,” he said. “She is their leader yet. At her funeral, one man said, ‘We are not burying Sister Dorothy, we are planting her, and she is growing.”

By Laura Dempsey

Staff Writer, Dayton Daily News

Thursday, March 19, 2009


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