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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Controversy over Venice winner
The Magdalene Sisters
Catholic commentators attacked the film
Scottish film director Peter Mullan has defended his film as based on "true events" in the face of strong criticism after winning the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice film festival.

The Magdalene Sisters follows four promiscuous girls who were used as labourers by the Catholic church in Ireland in the 1960s and shows them being abused by nuns in the notorious asylums.

Peter Mullan receiving the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival
Mullan was given the Golden Lion on Sunday
Mullan said the Catholic church should face up to cruelty dealt out by nuns in the asylums.

"I'm disappointed at the announcement that they have made is that it is all lies, that it never happened," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"That's something I'm very, very surprised at - I really thought they would have at least the courage to own up to the fact that these things did go on.

"I'm not a good enough dramatist to make this stuff up."

The Magdalene Sisters
The film has caused a furore in Italy
Speaking after receiving the award, he said he wanted to expose "one of the great injustices of the second half of the 20th Century".

He caused a furore in Italy when he likened the activities of some of the nuns to those of "Taliban militants".

It has been documented that women were admitted to the Magdalene asylums after they were orphaned, had children out of wedlock, or were simply "too pretty".

Mullan got the idea for the film after seeing a documentary about how the women were subjected to physical and mental abuse but still managed to offer some resistance.

The last Magdalene asylum was closed in 1996.

The Magdalene Sisters
Some audiences cheered as the girls rebelled
Italian newspapers and church figures have criticised the decision to hand the award to The Magdalene Sisters.

Andrea Piersanti, head of an Italian Catholic commission on the performing arts, said the jury had been more "influenced by the newspapers than the content of the film".

"It's a strange signal on the part of the first festival run by the centre-right who gave the prize to a film so brazenly anti-clerical," he added.

Catholic priest and media commentator, Gianni Baget Bozzo, also rounded on the jury and festival organisers.

"Whoever gave the prize to this film did so only because of its anti-Catholic content."

'Erupted'

The film got a rapturous reception from one audience in Venice, who cheered every time one of the girls tried to escape or rebelled against the nuns.

"The evening that I saw it, there was a great deal of low-key respect that kind of erupted at the end," Mullan told the Today programme.

Mullan shot to fame as an actor in Ken Loach's My Name is Joe, and won best actor at the 1998 Cannes film festival.

He has also had critical success as a director with his bleak, surreal Orphans.

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Peter Mullan
"I'm not a good enough dramatist to make this stuff up"

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