Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Brutality Towards Children

The recent news stories of the (alleged) systemic child abuse among the polygamist sect in Texas and now of the Austrian man Josef Fritzl, who held his own daughter and three of the seven children he fathered with her locked up for 24 years, leave me mostly speechless.

How can you do this to children? It is unimaginable to me how adults can do this to their own children or witness other children being mistreated to this extend, or any extend, really. I don't know what else to say myself. So I did a bit of research and found a some very helpful sites.

While it seems just horrific and unnatural, of course, there are some causes for adults abusing children (from the helpguide.org site):

  • Stress, including the stress of caring for children, or the stress of caring for a child with a disability, special needs, or difficult behaviors
  • Lack of nurturing qualities necessary for child care
  • Immaturity: a disproportionate number of parents who abuse their children are teenagers
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Personal history of being abused
  • Isolation from the family or community
  • Physical or mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Personal problems such as marital conflict, unemployment, or financial difficulties.
some cultural beliefs:
  • Children are property.
  • Parents (especially fathers) have the right to control their children in any way they wish.
  • Children need to be toughened up to face the hardships of life.
  • Girls need to be genitally mutilated to assure virginity and later marriage
Both stories are breaking news, yet the reality of the torture of these people went on for years, even decades. These events are very extreme. But there is no point in comparing who suffered more. When powerless people are abused it's soul-crushing, the world shatters for all of them the same. Some are physically locked up alone and lose all connection to the outside reality, others live among groups who create a reality that forces the victim to believe that this is normal. But many victims of child abuse walk among us and maybe that's what we can focus on in our outrage:

1. How can we detect that someone is being mistreated? How can we help them?

Some signs of abuse (from the helpguide.org site):

  • Physical:
    • visible marks of maltreatment, such as cuts, bruises, welts, or well-defined burns, and reluctance to go home. If you ask a child about how he or she got hurt and the child talks vaguely or evasively about falling off a fence or spilling a hot dish, think hard before you accept the child’s story at face value.

  • Sexual:
    • Inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sexual acts
    • Seductive behavior
    • Reluctance or refusal to undress in front of others
    • Extra aggression or, at the other end of the spectrum, extra compliance
    • Fear of a particular person or family member

  • Emotional:
    • apathy, depression, and hostility. If it happens at school, the child may be reluctant to go to school and develop or fake a physical complaint.

Eighteen states and Puerto Rico require all citizens to report suspected abuse or neglect.

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

2. How can we support a survivor of abuse in the process of healing?

From a very informative "letter" written from the perspective of a survivor of sexual abuse and addressed to friends, family and partners (from the healthyplace.com website):

Your support is extremely important to us. Remember, we have been trained to hold things in. We have been trained NOT to tell about the abuse. We did not tell sooner for a variety of reasons: we live with that fear. [...]

We are afraid we might push you away with all our emotional reactions. You can help by: listening, reassuring us that you are not leaving, not pressuring us, touching (WITH PERMISSION) in a nonsexual way.

Of course, an essential focus is on how to prevent the abuse in the first place by intervening if one becomes witness to abuse, by making sure your own children are not in unsafe situations, by supporting the education of parents to make sure they treat their children safely. But what measures can be taken to actually keep potential abusers from committing their crimes (besides parents' education)? Are there helplines or groups for them? Are there signs to look out for? Then there is the controversial issue of keeping offenders locked up or making their home addresses public.

More information at helpguide.org: "Child Abuse and Neglect: Types, Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Getting Help" and through links from that page.

Here's a page with helpful insights and tips for survivors of abuse: Healing From Child Abuse

A list of support and resource websites I've gathered on our website.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Webby Nomination!

Wallstrip, the online show Scott is producing, has been nominated for a Webby Award! More specifically, the HAHA episode, which Scott also directed, has been nominated for Best Editing. Congratulations to the editor Sean Smith and the entire Wallstrip team!

Scott has more detail about the production on his blog.

Besides the official way of getting the award, each category also has a People's Voice award that you, yes YOU, can vote for. Please go to the Webby People's Voice page, sign up (no newsletter, no worries), find the Best Editing category and vote for Wallstrip's HAHA. There'll be a party with free drinks if they win, I'm sure. Make sure you let them know you voted for them...

Here is the episode:

But the best place to watch it is directly on the Webby People's Voice page and vote for it: peoplesvoice.webbyawards.com/account/pv_login

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Edited: Last Town Chorus Video

I edited this music video directed by Bo Mehrad for the song "It's Not Over" by Last Town Chorus.

Watch a higher-rez version here: bomehrad.com/Last_Town_Chorus_its_not_over.html

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sarasota Wrap-up and A LOT more photos

I've been back from the Sarasota Film Festival for a few days now... and right away got caught up in work again. Before those 10 days turn into a cherished yet distant memory here are a few more pictures and thoughts.

You can never have another world premiere of your first full-length film ever again. So it was wonderful to have it be the way it was at the Sarasota Film Festival: with the participants of the film being in attendance and interacting with the audience, with such a supportive and friendly staff, in such a relaxed and beautiful environment, among such amazing film making peers and last but not least, with such a warm reception for the film itself. I am so grateful to everyone involved: the audience, the filmmakers, the press and of course the entire festival staff.

I can only recommend this festival highly and hope that I will be able to return in the future with All's Well and Fair and Five Sisters.

Because getting into Sarasota suddenly happened so quickly, after working on the
film for so long, we haven't had the chance yet to figure out where the film may screen next. It probably goes without saying that we'd love to attend a few more festivals with All God's Children - especially now that we've met some of the other filmmakers who are traveling the circuit with their films - but we also want to organize screenings that will reach out more directly to the target audience of the film.

But for now here are a few more photos from our time in Sarasota (and yes, there are a few more Karaoke pictures - after all, the Cabana Inn seemed to be the unofficial festival headquarters: we went three times).

Dr. Rich Darr, Janelle Couts, Dr. John Darr at the Opening Night Gala
(photo by Donna Darr)

Dianne (Darr) Couts before the press conference
(photo by Janelle Couts)

David Darr (center) talks to Dianne Couts and Ann Beardslee
insider info: seated on the left are two of the Five Sisters
(photo by Janelle Couts)

Howard Beardslee during press conference
(photo by Janelle Couts)

publicist extraordinaire Ethnee Lea, SNN producer Bill Wagy, Scott Solary
(photo by Janelle Couts)

Q&A after first screening: Tom Hall, me, Beverly Shellrude Thompson, Dr. John Darr, David Darr, Dianne Darr Couts, Dr. Rich Darr, Marilyn Shellrude Christman, Ann Beardslee, Dr. Howard Beardslee (Scott must be hiding behind John)
(photo by Ellie Snapp)

Marilyn Shellrude Christman at the fabulous Siesta Key condo

The view from the Siesta Key condo

During an interview for Manatee TV at the World Cinema Celebration Party - right about when I realize I've been so removed from the "real world" during this week that I hadn't even heard about the polygamist child abuse horror until I was asked about it on camera
(photo by John Coyne)

James Israel just after he took the following picture of us during a filmmakers reception at Modern Times Gallery.

In the company of other filmmakers with exceptional and very sad documentaries:
director/producer Tommy Davis (A Minute To Nine) and producer/editor Jason Mitchell (They Turned Our Desert Into Fire)
(photo by James Israel)

At the Potomac Sports & Entertainment Network (WTMY 1280 am)
Director Mike Brune (The Adventure) and radio show host Rick Levine

without words

Mark "Rabbi" Rabinowitz working

Mark "Rabbi" Rabinowitz and director of programming Tom Hall watching sports... at Karaoke

Programmer Holly Herrick proving like most people at Karaoke Night #2 that this should've been called open mic night, not karaoke - but then again I may be tone-deaf

Just one of many impressive dance moves by guest director Brian "Ball-of-Fun" Reiss and multi-talented Holly Herrick

An extra special thanks to ├╝ber-coordinator Chris, who not only made sure everything ran smoothly at the screenings but also got me home safely from the Cabana Inn twice

Rumored to be the most photographed couple of the festival (at least among the non-actor, non-film showing, non-festival sponsoring...) and dear friends:
Jimmy Israel & Melissa McConnell

Holly Herrick and Tom Hall make their last announcement of the festival: introducing the closing night film Battle in Seattle

Night #3 at The Cabana Inn
(Note the festival transportation Mercedes and the Nite Rider cab - both festival staples. I know nothing about the hookers ball.)

almost back home


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pope Bendict vows no more pedophile priests

It's all over the news today, but I find this important enough (in general and in the context of our documentary about child abuse by missionaries) to repost part of the latest Reuters article about Pope Benedict's statement. Of course, his statement is especially important in light of all the years of denial that abuse took place at all.

From Reuters, April 15:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Tuesday he was "deeply ashamed" over sexual abuse by clergy in the United States and vowed to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood, as he began his first U.S. trip as pontiff.

His comments directly addressed one of the toughest issues facing him on the first visit to the United States by a pope since a wave of sex abuse scandals began in 2002 and forced the country's Roman Catholic dioceses to pay more than $2 billion in settlements.

Polls say three-quarters of U.S. Catholics have a favorable impression of the German-born pontiff, but just as many say they disapprove of the defensive way the Church initially responded.

"We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry," he told reporters on his flight to Washington.

The Church will do everything possible in screening candidates for the priesthood, he said, "so that only really sound persons can be admitted."

"It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests," said Benedict [...]

By Philip Pullella
Again in the context of abuse by missionaries, Churches still continue to deny that their missionaries abused children. Furthermore, I'm not sure if any other Church has made such a statement about screening their staff. Of course, in general a lot of statements are made without there ever being a follow-through.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

PTSD after premiere

I've been staying at the Sarasota Film Festival all week enjoying all the films and parties, meeting other filmmakers and industry people, promoting the film via radio and local TV even after it has played. I've even got in quite a few hours of beach and pool time. Today is the last day of this quite wonderful time for me. There are rumors of Karaoke Night #3...

But it's also time to acknowledge that while I may have been having fun promoting the film, some of those who are featured in it and came to present it last week are dealing with some post-traumatic stress disorder after having gone public with their story in this way.

The following email excerpt from Beverly, who is one of the abuse survivors of Mamou, illustrates again how long-lasting and extreme the effects of the abuse and the silence are and how brave they have been in coming forward. Last but not least it may also provide some hope that there is healing in breaking the silence and experiencing the supportive reaction of the audience.

My talking about the PTSD / impact of seeing the film was in no way a pejorative or an expression of regret. It simply is factual and what is often happens when we re-live parts of our story. And if the process works its best, each time we "go back there" and have to face some of the trauma, we are able to process it a little more and lay some of the demons (non-spiritual demons!) to rest.

I find the outrage of some of the audience, and your family members who attended, and the media, very therapeutic. Within the community we grew up in, there is so little outrage and the "little girl" still inside me feels cared about because people are very angry at what was done to me. And while I am at it, that "little girl Bev" feels cared about that the story is being told, and that you are not ashamed to tell it, Scott and Luci.
Thank you so much, Bev and everyone.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Film Festival Fotos*

*It's a German thing

The last few days at the Sarasota Film Festival have been amazing and whirlwind. I couldn't be happier for the exposure our film and the story of the children of Mamou have received in the media. Of course, I'm also having a great time watching films, hanging out with friends, mee
ting new people and enjoying all the parties with their free drinks and food. I even squeezed in a day with friends in Tampa to go dancing and a day of relaxing on the beach and by the pool (yes, now I'm part of the sun burnt masses).

Here are a few pictures from the first few days I've taken. I hope I will soon get some of the pictures other people have taken to add here.

The press conference: Rich, Beverly, Howard, Irma, Faith

The sign outside our screening

me (bundle of nerves) and my dear and long-time friends Rob and John

the theater as we walked in - totally crazy

Scott and old filmmaking collaborator from Gainesville: Jason Matherne (before second screening)

Rob and Holly - our Tallahassee friends and Gainesville friends finally meet

Kris (mighty pregnant) and Karl (mighty protective?)

view of Dianne on screen from the back row (all our graphics and Super 8 worlds better than from the front)

the survivors watch footage John and Rich brought back from their recent trip to Mali:
Rich, Beverly, Dianne, Marilyn, David, John and Marilyn's husband Sean (standing)

and finally Karaoke night: the KJ and programmer Tom Hall doing a bit of a duet

Tom seems so proud as he presents all the male filmmakers in the room to sing B52's "Love Shack" - me and the other female filmmaker avoided the stage as long as we could until the name calling got to be too much - fortunately no pictures of that

Jason, Mark, Kurt, Justin, Scott, Tom, Bennie

Mark and Jason of They Turned Our Desert Into Fire, a doc about Dafur

Michael and Scott "drop it like it's hot". Michael had already impressed with the first dancefloor filler. But who knew Scott had it in him?

Michael, that football player and Tom totally free stylin'. Wow.

Anna singing about a big spender... Justin? I think his narrative feature Special People was great. So maybe he does have the funds (soon).

me, Rob and John driving up to Tampa for a day of vacationing and another highlight of one of the best times of my life

Monday, April 7, 2008

Review of All God's Children

We got our first written review. And it's a good one!

I couldn't be more thrilled. THANK YOU, JOEL ROZEN.

From The Sarasota Harald Tribune:


Published Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 11:58 a.m.

It was hardly the study abroad experience their parents thought they were having.

"All God's Children"

Directors: Scott Solary and Luci Westphal. 63 min. 3:30 p.m. April 6. Hollywood 20. A-

"There was no place to run, there was no place to hide," says American Rich Darr, of his childhood in West Africa.

Growing up missionary kids in the 1960s, Darr and his siblings were exposed to a world of routine beatings, playground humiliation and sexual manipulation. They weren't alone.

These, they allege in a sensitive new documentary by Scott Solary and Luci Westphal that premiered Saturday at the Sarasota Film Festival,, were among the horrors endured by countless students at Mamou Alliance Academy.

The parochial boarding school for missionary kids in Guinea had served as a sort of practical childcare system for members of the evangelical group Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) during their time overseas.

Some kids were raped. Others whipped with belts until they bled. One woman recalls nights of fearing for her life.

For years, the abuse inflicted by Mamou educators and dorm staff was unknown even to parents. But decades later, as alumni began to uncover repressed trauma, many realized they were victims of a perverse educational system.

"All God's Children" gives them the voice they claim they never had. Drawing from personal photographs, home movies, old Super-8 footage and a bevy of interviews with Mamou alumni, Solary and Westphal's film is sad yet unflinching, and demonstrates what can happen when unsuspecting parents put too much faith in an institution. The tone of the film may be more than just cautionary, however: It could be humanitarian.

Mamou was shut down in 1971, but of the roughly 110 missionary boarding schools still in operation throughout the world, the film's subjects cite 21 accused of similar acts of abuse. More troubling, while missionary school abuse may be endemic, legal action is seldom taken against those inflicting the pain. It certainly never was at Mamou — the C&MA still barely acknowledges the "psychological, physical and spiritual" abuse they once backed. (In one memorable scene, International Ministries Vice President Bob Fetherlin seems to grasp at straws for an explanation. "We were slower to act than we could've been," he says. To this day, not a single Mamou staff member has faced any serious consequences.)

The strength of "All God's Children" lies in the way it captures the emotional ripples cast by the abuse. At a post-screening Q&A attended by the filmmakers and six of their subjects, one viewer was particularly intrigued by the parents' reactions when they learned about what had happened at Mamou.

"It was an ongoing grief for them," said Diane Darr, Rich’s older sister and a also a victim. "And it still is."

World Premiere at Sarasota Film Festival

The last two days have been simply amazing and mostly surreal and unbelievable. On Saturday All God's Children had its world premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival with a second screening yesterday. We had full houses both times, apparently there was a standing ovation (I was much too nervous to notice) and people kept telling us that they really liked the film. The last part is still a bit difficult for me to really believe but it's starting to sink in that if nothing else the film is well-received because of its important message of breaking the silence regarding child abuse within the missionary community. And everyone seems to be very taken by the courage and honesty of all the survivors and their parents who speak so frankly in the film.

The former Mamou students Beverly Shellrude Thompson, Marilyn Shellrude Christman, Dianne (Darr) Couts, David Darr, John Darr and Rich Darr and the parents Ann and Howard Beardslee, who all appear in our film, traveled from as far as Seattle and Toronto to be present at the two screenings and be available for Q&A's afterwards.

The conversation after the film between them and the audience (the first people besides us and the Sarasota programmers to see this cut) was amazing and again made me feel like every step of this journey has been so very worth it. It truly feels like the story of the children without voices is starting to be told... and heard.

I cannot thank Holly Herrick and Tom Hall enough for programming our film and giving us, the survivors and their parents, the opportunity to bring their
story to the public for the first time in such a hospitable, safe and beautiful environment.

The two days have been a true whirlwind. Saturday morning we arrived at 3:30am after those flight delays. A few hours of sleep and at 11:30 Scott and I participated in a panel moderated by Holly Herrick about non-fiction film with several amazing filmmakers: Jenny Phillips of Dhamma Brothers, Kurt Kuenne of Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father and Mark Brecke of They Turned Our Desert Into Fire. To be in their company was a real honor and I'm really excited to see all their films. Holly asked some great questions which lead to

Scott, Luci, Jenny, Knut, Mark, Jason Mitchell (at table, Mark's producer)
photo by Michael Tully

Next we were whisked away to a press conference held by members of MK Safetynet, an advocacy group for missionary kids who have suffered abuse. Some of them appear in our film. Excerpts from the press conference, clips from the film and a short interview with Scott appeared on SNN, the local news station, on heavy rotation throughout Saturday and Sunday! Thank you to D'Arcy Drollinger and Ethnee Lea.

Next we premiered the film. I'm going to just skip the part about some technical issues with the After Effects files and Super 8 material, which we were aware of but had never seen THAT big.

The Q&A was great, as I mentioned before.

Afterwards all of us did a video interview, which may be used by the festival and even ABC. Then finally we were able to sit down for a celebratory and nerve-calming drink at the closest bar with people from the film and the friends who had come in from out of town and out of state to see the film.

Next stop was dinner with the whole "cast", friends and family at the Amish restaurant. No, really.

We rounded out the night with a fantastic 50s themed festival party at the swanky Lake Club in Bradenton, where we met so many fascinating filmmaker and finally a lot of those hard working staffers.

Sunday was a lot less hectic until our screening, to which more friends and other former students of the Mamou Academy showed up. The Q&A was even more touching when several of the parents and survivors spoke about how their lives and faiths had been effected.

Scott and I sat down for another interview with Noralil Fores of the fantastic online independent film magazine ShortEnd Magazine.

In the evening we had some much-needed time to just spend with everyone who had been in the film who could attend the screenings. It was really good to be together and talk about how amazing this experience has been like and what the next steps may be to get the film seen in other venues.

The Sarasota Film Festival event of the night was Karaoke at The Cabana Inn, a rather cinematic lounge and motel. Dancing, laughing and thankfully no singing by me - a perfect night. Scott closed out the evening with a dip in the ocean since he had to fly back to New York today.

To read more about the first two days of the festival and the opening night events, which we missed, check out filmmaker Michael Tully's blog "Boredom at Its Boredest", who took the picture included in this post and has such nice things to say about the panel and the film. Thank you.

(I'll post our pictures later, I'm running out of time now.)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Stuck at the airport

Today we were supposed to catch a 1:40pm flight out of La Guardia airport to Sarasota just barely in time for the Opening Night Film and the Opening Night Gala - a highlight of the film festival.

But after hours of delays due to weather our flight was canceled and we're now booked on a 10:20pm flight out of JFK airport to Tampa, where we
're scheduled to arrive around 1:20am.

Besides a fun stop'n'go traffic ride in a cab from LGA to JFK we've spend the entire day inside airports.

Of course, we've missed all the opening night festivities, which is very
disappointing. But we feel lucky that we are getting a flight out tonight at all.

And we're trying to make the best of it...

OMG, they're actually calling up our flight!!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Studio Upstairs Interview

The episode of the film podcast The Studio Upstairs in which Chris Vander Kaay interviewed us about All God's Children just went online.

It was wonderful talking to him, especially because he asked such knowledgeable and thorough questions. Oh, and because he seemed to really like the film!

Thank you so much, Chris!

You can listen directly on the site here or find it on iTunes (it's episode #82).