The documentary “My Name Is Faith” premiered at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival. This film has already won the Audience Choice Award and I am sure it will continue to win many more awards. I had the honor and privilege to sit down with the filmmakers and Tiffany Sudela-Junker, the mother who initiated the making of this documentary, and discuss the entire process.
For those of you who are unfamiliar “My Name Is Faith,” it’s about a little girl. She’s not an ordinary little girl, though. She, along with many other children in our country and world, suffers from Attachment Disorder. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Great. Another label to put on kids with problems.” However, this disorder may actually help us understand some of the inexplicable violence in our world today. You see, children who have an attachment disorder or Reactive Attachment Disorder are typically neglected, abused or orphaned, according to the Mayo Clinic Staff. This, in turn, may affect the ability to establish future bonds and relationships. “That break in the attachment affects their conscious development and they are different...They have to be parented differently or they are dangerous!” stated Nancy Thomas, Therapeutic Parenting Specialist. Still doesn’t sound like a big deal? Imagine your child attempting to kill a family member because he/she just doesn’t care and hasn’t had a connection or bond with anyone. Now it sounds like a big deal, doesn’t it? The film addresses many families with children who have been adopted and suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder. It doesn’t affect just the child: it affects the family and sometimes even the community in which that family lives.
(Movie Trailer: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/9vnf55ai0of1wqg/42Hq9tvv_m
|Tiffany with Faith|
I met with Tiffany Sudela-Junker, Faith’s mom, the two filmmakers Jason Banker and Jorge Torres-Torres with Undercurrent Films, and another integral member of the team Shannon Fletcher, LPC. Shannon was a camp volunteer on the intervention team and is one of the few professionals that understands and appreciates the daily impact this disorder has on the family. It was apparent from the beginning that this team was more like a family. Although they hadn’t known each other long, they had experienced life changing events and grown together through Faith. After so many stressful experiences, they all knew this story needed to be told. Through trust in one another, it would be.
How does a mom get into being a filmmaker? Tiffany was introduced to Jason and Jorge through a mutual friend. It was evident from the moment I started talking with “the team” that Jorge and Jason poured their hearts and souls into this experiential documentary. Although there were important pieces of factual information, Jason and Jorge approached this documentary in a very different and creative way. They wanted their audience to completely understand what the parents in their film were experiencing. The only way to do that was to film it from the perspective of experience and from the point of view of Faith’s mother, Tiffany. The filmmakers took direction and perspective from Tiffany who had experienced all of this first-hand. This collaboration seldom, if ever, happens between filmmakers and one of the focal points of the film. Again, trust in each other and the need to tell the story from the right perspective lead this film forward. If you’re familiar with the film, you know that the filmmakers interviewed the children, parents, caregivers, and counselors. Each and every one of the people in this film had to trust these filmmakers and Tiffany to paint an accurate picture. With this trust, relationships developed which enabled the filmmakers to delve even deeper into this overwhelming and intimidating experience.
Camp Connect was the beginning of Faith’s healing process through intensive intervention. Initially, this film was to be about the camp and to let other families know that this type of intervention was available for severe forms of attachment disorders. With that in mind, the filmmakers went in, met the parents and children at the camp and earned their trust to make this film. It wasn’t until Jason and Faith had a chance to talk one-to-one that Jason, Jorge, and Tiffany realized the true story was about Faith and her journey. With hundreds of hours of filming, there needed to be hundreds of hours of editing. With a clear path ahead of them, they could tell a story, educate others, and still touch on many other aspects of life such as marriage and the stresses this places on a relationship.
What do Tiffany and the filmmakers hope to accomplish with the completion of this film? Interestingly, after the film was completed, Dr. Ken Huey of CALO* (Change Academy, Lake of the Ozarks) saw this film and helped ensure that it made its way along the film festival circuit. Distribution of this film will enable this story to be told and potentially help many children and families. Another goal of Tiffany’s is to educate parents of adopted children. She explained that had she have known what was to be expected, she and her husband J would have been better prepared. She felt like she had spent, and therefore lost, time reinventing the wheel. Any parent who adopts a child or takes a foster child in, runs the risk of having a child with an attachment disorder. However, she emphasized that just because a child is broken, does not mean that they cannot heal utilizing support systems and therapy. Tiffany hopes for many other goals to be accomplished with this film as well. Working with the school system and educating professionals about the possible difficulties encountered could perhaps prevent violent and irreparable incidents from occurring. Every child deserves a chance and every child deserves to be loved and to give love in return.
While filming this movie, Tiffany’s first hand experiences enabled Jorge and Jason to know when to continue with filming and when it was time to just put the camera down. That was a tough line to draw as Jorge relayed a story of having to put his camera literally on the ground and run to help a child. As Jorge, Jason and Shannon were all trained as volunteers prior to filming at Camp Connect, they had the knowledge base necessary to be a part of the solution. This was definitely an experiential documentary from their perspective as well.
Sometimes the lines of filmmaker and confidant are blurred as with the case of Jason. He and Faith seemed to bond together in a “spiritual way” which enabled Faith to share more with him than any other adult. With this open communication and trust, Faith’s healing process was boosted. Confronting Faith’s biological mother was yet another aspect of this healing process to be completed. With Tiffany’s encouragement and guidance, Faith approached Andrea, her biological mother. It was wonderful to have Jason behind the camera, to give Faith another feeling of safety in this rather intimidating situation. However, as a parent myself, I had to ask Tiffany how she felt the day that Faith went to confront Andrea. Tiffany’s words still choke me up. She was “excited for Faith to confront her (biological) mom, but afraid due to the emotion.” Tiffany has no anger toward Andrea. In fact, it is Tiffany’s hope that one day Andrea can be stable enough to have a healthy relationship not only with Faith but with Tiffany and her husband. As Tiffany reiterated, but you can definitely see in the film, Faith is an exceptionally bright child. This, given the right direction from her family, will only make things better for Faith. Parenting, as we discussed, is a difficult road for any family. When you throw any type of a disorder into the equation, it can be a disaster. Patience, love, understanding, and the ability to look outside yourself helps to avert disaster. Tiffany’s knowledge and love aided her to be the epitome of what a mother should or could be. While all of us at the table agreed whole heartedly, Tiffany was quick to say that she and her husband still “do make mistakes parenting.” Every child is different and every child needs a different style of parenting. No one is perfect and we all have good and bad days.
|Jorge, Tiffany, and Jason|
As we wrapped up the interview, the filmmakers had a question for me. The tables were turned. They asked me what topics they might have missed covering in this film. My answer? They didn’t miss a thing. Interviewing Jason, Jorge, Tiffany and Shannon was one of the most emotional interviews I have ever had. They all were completely open with me and wore their hearts on the sleeves. You could see how attached they were to each other as well as the families they filmed. They truly care about these children and families. They want to make a difference and through this creative experiential documentary they will. Through Faith, they will make a difference.
Faith wrote this letter so that you might better understand her and what she wants to accomplish with this film:
Letter from Faith Dear World,
This film may be a little bit daunting, I hope you receive it with the message that was intended. Kids and families like ours need help and need to not have to survive on their own. Every hurt kid needs a safety team, a friend, a family they know they can fall back on. Hurt kids are not going to be hurt kids forever, they will either be hurt kids that healed or hurt kids who hurt people. Kids who are hurt have to learn how to trust and how to be vulnerable, I'm still working on it and its hard but its achievable, if I can do it, you can too.
Faith Junker April 16, 2012In addition,
*CALO (Change Academy, Lake of the Ozarks): CALO is a residential treatment facility and school for teens struggling with Attachment and Trauma based challenges.