Dreams come true in Ohio

Ohio street between Minerva and Akron

A few days ago I returned from a wonderful trip to Ohio where I attended three screenings of our documentary All God's Children.

It really was a dream come true: I got to travel, visit friends, re-connect with the people in our film, meet new people, show our work, see
first-hand that people appreciate our film and hear that they find it meaningful and helpful and want to share it with others. Is there anything more important than realizing your work actually matters to others? It's been the greatest reward in the whole process of making this documentary.

The screening room in Akron is starting to fill. My friends Anne and David are walking down the aisle. Judy Darr sits in the foreground.

Of course, in case of this particular film our motivation from the get-go was to give a voice and a permanent record to the children who were forced into silence at the time - only to be denied acknowledgment for years once they were adults. It was amazing to stand in front of the crowd at Minerva High School, an educational institution, and be able to thank the audience for having heard the story of the Mamou missionary kids - just like they learn about so many historic events.

So one more time: thank you to everyone who attended one of the screenings!

Goss Memorial Church, Akron

The first screening, on May 23rd, took place at the Goss Memorial Church in Akron, the church that supported the Darr parents (Anne and Dick Darr) on their mission field in Africa. Today Dianne Darr Couts' husband Bud Couts is the pastor. He did an amazing job hosting the screening.

We had almost a hundred people in attendance and quite a lively discussion between the audience and film participants Dianne Darr Couts and David Darr. Special guests at the screening were David and Dianne's mother Anne Darr and David's former wife Judy Tschetter Darr, who had attended Mamou for all the grades they offered.

Siblings David Darr and Dianne Couts Darr during the Q&A at the Akron screening
(photo by Jennie Couts McDonald)


The room hadn't cleared and we already sold out of all DVDs for the entire trip. A big thanks to Jennie Couts McDonald for handling the merch table and her two adorable little girls at the same time.

I also would like to thank Bob Carpenter for setting up the screening room and Peg Bandy (Anne Darr's sister) for organizing all of the refreshments and Sally Hill and Marge Couts for helping with the delicious provisions.

Peg Bandy collects the remnants of the cookie feast

Last but not least, I have to thank everyone for their very generous donations! Your giving will make it possible for us to attend more screenings and keep telling the story of the Mamou MKs.

As with all the screenings it was wonderful to meet people before and after the screening - to hear what they thought of the film and their ideas how to spread the story further and help both wounded adults as well as prevent children from getting harmed in the future. Many times I even got to hear stories of their own childhood experiences.

On this trip it was very special to spend more time with Dianne's daughter Jennie, who I had met at the film festival in Alabama, and meet her adorable daughters Lydia and Leah. The long awaited highlight was to finally meet Judy Darr, who we wish we could have included in the documentary. But to simplify some of the story, we decided to leave out the spouses of the MKs, even if they had attended Mamou as well. But now I finally got listen to some of her stories during our drive to Columbus.

A good amount of the Ohio trip I spent on the computer, of course. While I've been blogging about our tours after the fact, I've been staying current on the All God's Children facebook page with notes and pictures and blabbing along on twitter. And there are the future screenings to plan for... While in Akron, Dianne and I had many wonderful conversation while both looking over the screens of our respective Mac Book Pros at her dining room table.

Jennie and Leah have taken over Dianne's computer. Judy Darr is ready for the drive to Columbus, while I still have to do some updating on our facebook page.

Our second screening, on May 24th, took place at the King Avenue United Methodist Church in Columbus. It wasn't quite as crowded, which reminded us that not everyone wants to sit in a dark room watching a film about children abused by clergy members on a sunny Memorial Day Sunday afternoon. So we appreciated even more the people who actually chose to come watch the film with us. And we did have a wonderful group who showed their focused interest and compassion during the discussion after the screening.

A great quote from pastor John Keeny: To what extent to we protect the Church and bury the truth?


Thank
you to John Wooden and everyone at Kings Avenue United Methodist for organizing and helping with the screening.

Dianne and David in front of King Avenue United Methodist Church


Judy, Luci, David, Dianne in Columbus
(photo by Barry McDonald)

After the screening we went on a little mini vacation: 48 hours until the next screening. First we visited David's place (Spanish stucco right here in the mid-west?), then Jennie and Barry had us over for a lovely BBQ just outside of Columbus.

Luscious tree in front of David's apartment

Memorial Day was the official day off and I got to spend it relaxing with my friends Anne Hanson and David Whitfield at their dream house in Canton, Ohio. David has done an amazing job not just renovating but stylishly re-inventing one room after the other.

Anne and David's beautiful home

Anne and David are dear friends whom I met about 10 years ago in New York. At the time we all worked in the graphics industry while at the same time pursuing our true passions. It was especially wonderful to visit them now when their own business is flourishing and I'm touring with our film.

Anne Hanson in one of her recent creations, a semi-fitted cardigan
(photo by David Whitfield)


Anne is an amazing knitter, knitting pattern designer, teacher, business person and a very popular blogger. Her blog knitspot, which focuses mainly on all things knitting but also other aspects of their lives (right now there are a beautiful pictures of flowers in their yard), is written in such a personal and engaging style that I am not at all surprised at its popularity. As a matter of fact she has become quite an inspiration to me and I learned a lot a lot from her even in the short visit. Well, we kind of talked non-stop - that probably helped.

One of my favorite views in Anne and David's house - it is refreshing and inspiring with the tree, the suggestion of warm summer air, the painting and the spaciousness of the center hall. David has not given this area "his treatment" - I can't wait to see it once he has.

On Tuesday, May 26th, I was invited to speak to a mass communications class at Minerva High School a few hours before the public screening at the school's brand new auditoria (mostly auditorium, but also used as the cafeteria).

The students had watched All God's Children previously with their teacher Emily Coldwell and had prepared a lot of excellent questions. It was very interesting to hear different questions than at the screenings and even talk about the filmmaking a little bit more instead of just the content. I really appreciated the opportunity to share some of my experiences and feel that maybe they didn't all think I was a total dork. There is something quite powerful to engage with teenagers that are interested and quizzical. It makes you excited for the adventures and accomplishments that lie ahead of them.

The Minerva High School teams are called the Lions. These paw prints start on a small public street and lead all the way up to the field. Such a charming small town.

After the screening a few of the students showed me two of the funny videos they have produced. So exciting to see kids share the same passion that has kept you going for so long.

On our way to the production room, however, I was part of a completely different experience: While walking down the hall there came the announcement: lock down drill! Everyone stopped briefly, looked around and then quickly and calmly headed for the nearest classroom. Inside: the blinds already down, a teacher closed the door, told us to huddle in a corner and turned off the lights. Then we waited - just not in the instructed complete silence. Some of the kids were joking about who might get shot first if another kid came running in with a gun and open fire. Yes, that's what the lock-down drill is all about: preparing for the event of a shooter running amok at the school.


It's often pointed out that a lot of things have changed in schools since the days of Mamou. But in this moment I realized first-hand how much had changed in schools in the last 10 years. When Columbine happened I had just graduated from film school, but these kids in Minerva were no older than 7. They grew up with the idea that someone could just come running into their school and try to kill them. That thought was chilling and astonishing.

After visiting Dianne's French class we talked about my observation and she quoted something from the film: "They laugh about it because it's so painful that they can't talk about it."

Even though it wasn't planned, the experience of the lock-down drill in an American high school was a meaningful one and I'm glad to have had a chance to witness it.

Minerva High School

The public screening that afternoon had such a diverse crowd. There even were ministers from different Churches in attendance. The most significant one, of course, was the Christian and Missionary Alliance minister, who seemed to like the film and wanted to share it with his congregation. He said, we must help the abuse survivors. It was such a wonderful moment to hear him say that and we are very grateful for his openness and compassion.

The film is about to start at the Minerva screening.

This was our first public screening in a school and it made me aware of how important it is to screen in that kind of a location. Mamou Alliance Academy was a Church-run institution, but it was a school after all. Not to mention the fact that one of our goals is to bring awareness about the lengthy healing process to people who may be in contact with abuse survivors. Schools are not only a places of learning but also places of interaction between people, who may need to be helped or at least feel understood.

A big thank you to principal Mike Riley for inviting Dianne to screen the film at Minerva High School and share the story with colleagues, students and the local community and to the vice principal Alex Albert for setting everything up.


Dianne and David in Columbus

At the end of this incredibly long post (must be the longest one I've written so far) I would like to once more thank Dianne Darr Couts and David Darr for telling their story to us in the first place and then going above and beyond in helping us get it out to the public. THANK YOU!!!