I kicked off my Sydney Underground Film Festival experience by checking out the Ozploit program of shorts. I won’t review them in detail, but there were some really fun films on the program and it was very cool to not only see such a good crowd, but plenty of the filmmakers in attendance too. The Festival went to the effort of allowing each filmmaker to introduce themselves and their film too, which I thought was a great touch.
The first full length film for me at the festival was Kidnapped for Christ (2014) directed by Kate Logan. This doco examines ‘Christian’ schools designed to essentially ‘reprogram’ ‘troubled teens’. Apologies for all the quotation marks, but they are all necessary. The behaviour exhibited by those behind these schools is clearly not anything remotely what one (no matter your faith) would consider Christian. The reprogramming is nothing short of abuse, whilst the notion that these teens are troubled and in some way deserving of the attempted treatment in the film is ludicrous. Some of the kids have behavioural issues. Some you suspect just got on their parents nerves a little. Others have suffered horrific abuse, including sexual abuse, at the hands of adults and somehow this punishment is designed to help them. Others such as David, a teen the film focuses heavily on, are ‘guilty’ of being openly homosexual. These schools, such as the one in the Dominican Republic the film was shot at, practice what they call Culture Shock Therapy. This involves intentionally taking the kids out of their natural environment, as the unease of the new surrounds makes them more malleable and easier to assert control over. There is also a strictly enforced conformity that comes out of the bullshit militaristic routine that is forced upon the students. Astoundingly, parents pay around $72,000 to have their children treated in this way.
One of the most interesting of all the characters we see in the film is actually the director Kate Logan, who made Kidnapped for Christ as a student film at a Christian college in the USA. Initially, the evangelical Logan attends the school in the Dominican Republic hoping to shed light on the great work that the facility run by fellow Christians is doing. Watching her journey play out on film, as she progresses from attempting to deliver a hopeful fluff piece, to questioning deeply what she is seeing take place, all the way through to deeply questioning her faith is probably the greatest personal evolution seen in the film. I actually would have loved to have seen more of her personal story throughout and especially toward the end. To see the effect that her experiences had overall on her faith, a couple of years after the fact.
As shocking as anything else in this film is the fact that the school administrators were happy for Logan to shoot all of this footage. They clearly thought that what they were doing was so defensible that they had no issue with it being documented in this way. Later in the film, the workers there do begin to get a little nervous, restricting free access for Logan to the kids and taking a much more active role in keeping her from some of the more obnoxious goings on. It is a testament to just how horrible the practices of the school are, that these restrictions really do not lessen the impact of the film at all or how you will feel about the school and others like it. Kidnapped for Christ is not particularly noteworthy cinematic art. It is a student film and you can sort of tell. Parts of it feel almost like a tacky shocking expose TV show, at least early on. But the footage shot on location feels a lot more grounded and therefore effective. None of this is meant as a slight against Logan. She is clearly a talented filmmaker and more importantly, like many of this generations best documentarians she has a distinctive eye and sensibility that means when she inserts herself into proceedings, the film is elevated rather than becoming an ego piece.
Verdict: Kidnapped for Christ could have easily rested on its shocking material and been a watchable, shocking and informative film. But by overlaying her personal experience and confrontation with what she is seeing, Kate Logan makes the film much more rewarding than just that. Hopefully she continues to make more docos, because I will certainly be hunting them down. Pint of Kilkenny
Don’t forget to get commenting away to go in the draw for a couple of sweet Madman DVDs. Details here.