Film about the investigation on the death of Nathalie de Reuck’s mother, who, under the influence of pseudo therapists, refused medical treatment

Philippe Dutilleul, RTBF[1] JOURNALIST

Throughout the world, modern society must take up the challenge of health charlatans, mind corrupters, and aberrant self-proclaimed “therapists”. This applies to both Europe and other continents. 

It is about real predators who, often with great impunity, use their consummate skill to manipulate minds, for which they subsequently require payment. Intellectual deception (indeed brainwashing) to all intents and purposes. Family units are divided, and “patients” are totally subjugating to their esoteric theories and their sectarian practices. If you do not think like them, you are “condemned”, you cannot escape!

I shall put my point of view as a documentary (investigative) journalist and director of RTBF (Public French-speaking Belgian Radio Television). In other words, the challenge is as follows: how to make television viewers aware of the danger that these con men - who often work together within a network - represent?

For at any given moment in our lives, any one of us could be made vulnerable due to a setback caused by work, family, emotional difficulties or a health problem. To a greater or lesser extent, this can have serious repercussions on our psychological and mental well-being. Consequently, we become potential targets for these clever predators who know all too well how to adapt their grasping talk to our current circumstances. And this is all too clearly the case with regard to certain medicines described as “mild”, “parallel” or “alternative”. These are now highly fashionable, as opposed to classical medicine which is accused (by the charlatans) of all evils.

Media in general, but television in particular because it reaches the greatest number of people at any one time, has an important role to play in exposing sectarian deviances in general, but in particular those relating to people’s health.  We must teach, raise awareness of and, in short, perform a useful task by energetically and effectively exposing these potentially dangerous individuals. Which assumes that one is aware of the problem or danger oneself and is prepared to expose it.

If I limit myself to television, the media form in which I work, an example of a situation can be symbolically represented through a fictitious scenario – a film made for television, for example – on the subject in order to raise public awareness. But this risks the story – even if well made – possibly appearing (somewhat) removed from reality. There is therefore a risk that the aim to expose and arouse awareness in the television audience will partly fail.  

This is why, as far as I am concerned, I have chosen to make the most powerful documentary possible in the very competitive world of television (an essential consideration nowadays); a world which does not always look for quality in its broadcasts, provided that there is a large number of viewers...

That is also the reason why I waited almost two years before managing to find just the right example (the case of Nathalie De Reuck’s mother, which Nathalie herself will be explaining in detail shortly). This was after a friend who was very aware of such people, and himself fell victim to these aberrant therapists within his own family, made me aware of the problem.

Three conditions are necessary to produce such a film which will expose the sectarian phenomenon and bring it to the attention of a large number of people. 

1)   A reliable source or indeed reliable sources of information, resulting in a mutual atmosphere of trust is certainly the most difficult prerequisite for a journalist to obtain. I would particularly stress this point before this audience. Without suitable original, unpublished information, without rigorous documentation, without witnesses ready to speak, there can be no reports or documentary films exposing these sectarian phenomena. I have had the opportunity to meet well-informed and concerned people who have collaborated wholeheartedly with my work, without criticism. They have provided me with some interesting pieces of information.

2)   One example, one case, which is striking through its fervour, its content – which provokes discussion and reflection, through its exemplary nature – everyone feels concerned and understands the stakes. In the chosen example, I had the use of both human and audio-visual material (sound archives, photographs, amateur films). This allowed the audience to become attached to the characters and us to tell a very realistic story (on which Nathalie De Reuck, the victim’s daughter, will be expounding, together with the relevant consequences), arousing emotion and promising questioning.

3)   The complete collaboration, either of the victim (if he is still alive and willing to bear witness), or of his family (if the victim has died) in the making of the report or film documentary. That has been the case with Nathalie De Reuck for the film that we produced together about her mother who died three months before shooting began (film title: “mort biologique sur ordonnance téléphonique“ - “organic death by telephone prescription”).

In my humble opinion, in order to reinforce the impact of such a production, the journalist/producer must not try to teach, moralise or explain how to think. It is the story itself, told, shown through its content, which must convince the viewers and make them aware of the sectarian danger. Not an ideological speech but concrete examples which encourage reflection, discussion and a defence reflex if you are one day faced with a situation of this type.  This, in any case, was my approach in making this film.

In addition to the three conditions I described previously, other obstacles also arise for a TV journalist (not so much for someone working in written press or on the radio) producing a report on this theme. There must be pictures! And their impact and reliability are a key factor. Very often, you need to resort either to a hidden camera (because therapists and sectarian practitioners do not generally look favourably upon the arrival of a TV team to film their group/individual training or manipulation sessions), or allow the people being interviewed to remain anonymous, either for their own safety, or for personal reasons. If not, you have nothing and there can be no film!

These two constraints are very common in these types of environments and investigations. You must therefore surround yourself with as many legal safeguards as possible for the broadcasting of the report. The tiniest error will be exploited by these predators/manipulators to obtain compensation through the courts for damages suffered by them and/or a ban on broadcasting. The right to use images is becoming more and more restrictive and the law is very unpredictable in this matter. In all situations, circumspection is essential and recourse to the opinion of competent lawyers, desirable.

In the film we are discussing, the sound recordings made by the victim (Nathalie De Reuck’s mother) with her therapists (without their knowledge), although not in themselves constituting legal evidence, remain an important element of credibility which show the victim in a favourable light, to the detriment of her guru/therapist, thus reducing the possibility of going to court.

When the audio-visual production is finished and ready for broadcasting, the journalist/producer is still far from winning the campaign. He must persuade the channel directors to show the film in good broadcasting conditions (day, time, frequency) so that it is seen by the largest number of viewers possible. And let us not forget that competition is fierce between both public and privately run television channels. This type of film, even if its content is powerful and interesting, will not necessarily be programmed for prime time television or bought by other channels.

I must add that, directly or indirectly, through certain popular or more targeted transmissions on radio or TV, acting very skilfully, certain pseudo-scientific and sectarian theories have gained the right to be heard and are spoken highly of, either by unconcerned organisers or by therapists themselves acting freely and with complete impunity.   On the Internet, the situation is even worse. It is a privileged and prized place for these charlatans to spread their false theories.  But at the same time a source of information for us!   

That is the reason why, when in possession of a file of research material and a series of other pieces of information suitable for disclosure, there can be no hesitation – even if it requires a great deal of work – in accompanying the film with a book or a series of articles in the written press. Which has been the case in this situation with the publication of a book called "My mother was killed!" published by Editions Buchet-Chastel. The book recaptures elements present in the film but goes much further in exposing these therapists/charlatans, going into the history of it, into the information divulged, all the while remaining accessible to the public at large.

To conclude, I would say that this investigation (which is not finished because, with the help of Nathalie, a further report on this theme is being considered) has taken a great deal of time and energy but the ends justify the means.  However, no cause, however justifiable it might be, is won in advance. Especially this one. For you can never prevent someone from going to consult this type of therapist or prevent them from becoming convinced by them. (Everyone is free to care for himself as he wishes) especially if, moreover, there is a judicial impunity in serious cases. The case developed in the film and book is equally a good example from this point of view since the victim’s daughter (Nathalie De Reuck) has bravely decided to lodge a complaint (few people do so, through lack of evidence generally, money or support) with the Public Prosecutor in Brussels. Let us hope that the police and judges do their job correctly....

Philippe Dutilleul

January 2010.

Tournai. Belgium


[1] Radio Télévision belge francophone