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We had the chance to interview Director Phoebe Hart.
Telegraph21: What inspired you to make Orchids: My Intersex Adventure?
Phoebe: When I was a teenager, I found out I have a rare congenital intersex condition or ‘disorder of sex development’ called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome or AIS for short. Basically, this means I have male chromosomes and gonads but, from the outside, I look typically female. When my mother told me about it, I’d already spent many angst-ridden years as a confused teen who knew something was wrong but had no context to understand what was or was not happening to me. After I found out the truth, I was told that it should be kept secret from now on because it was something “we don’t talk about”.
For many years I carried the shame, secrecy and stigma of feeling I was different to other women if not all of humanity. I felt like a freak. At times, I wondered if aliens had dropped me on the planet as some kind of weird experiment to see how I would survive amongst the ‘real’ humans. Eventually, I got to learn that, yes, I was a little different but I’m a human with many gifts and what I am is natural. After I began to meet others like me I realized I wasn’t alone, and that sometimes it takes courage to break the cycle of silence. So I decide to start making this film – very cautiously and with fear at first – but with a certain amount of pride too. Now, I am pleased to say the film has shown around the world and I hope it’s changed how people think about intersex.
Telegraph21: What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
Phoebe: I’d like viewers to take the message away from the film that while we are all different, we are all human. Therefore, there are things we all have a birthright too — safety, intimacy, love, respect, compassion, a sense of belonging and the truth.
Telegraph21: How did you first meet and connect with the individuals you feature in the film?
Phoebe: When I began to reach out to others, I wasn’t sure how to do it. In fact, I was almost certain it would be incredibly difficult to find others. However, it was really easy. I entered “Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome” into an Internet search engine and immediately I found groups and people to talk to. The people I meet in the film, I met them thanks to the Internet and the networks that’s helped to set up. But meeting everyone in person, well, that was truly amazing because you realize you have so much in common. It’s like meeting another member of your family.
Telegraph21: Has there been increased awareness about Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) since you made the film?
Phoebe: I think there has been an increasing awareness of intersex and conditions like Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. In part, that’s due to films like Orchids that are out in the world nowadays. But it’s also due to individuals and organizations who want to see change – change to law, change to medicine and change to our societal perceptions on gender and what’s ‘normal’.
Telegraph21: Has the film been screened in educational settings? If so, what has been the response?
Phoebe: The film has been screened at many universities and schools. Mostly, I’ve only been present for film festival screenings, but I do get many emails from teachers and students who’ve seen the documentary. Overall, the response has been extremely positive. My favorite responses are from young people who say that they feel validated and that they believe world is a better place to live after hearing my story.
Telegraph21: Your favorite thing about Australia?
Phoebe: Australia is a beautiful place to live. We are so fortunate – we have great climate, nature, food, a thriving arts and cultural scene…. Hey, it’s not perfect but I’ve traveled and lived around the world and it’s still my favorite place to be.
Maria Luisa: Steven, Gloria Bremer (my co-director) and I were all working on a series for Link TV called “Rappers, Divas and Virtuosos,” featuring dynamic musicians from Muslim cultures. We wanted to do the last piece on Sister Fa, so we made a point to connect with her at the 2009 UN Day Concer, where Steven had arranged for her to perform.
Our partner Women Make Movies brought to our attention the upcoming broadcast of the film Sin By Silence on the Discovery Channel on October 17th. Sin By Silence follows Brenda Clubine, who has been locked up for 26 years for murdering her abusive husband. She started Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA), the first support and advocacy group of its kind – for women in prison, by women in prison. I had the opportunity to interview filmmaker Olivia Klaus about the film.
Telegraph21: What inspired you to make Sin by Silence?
Olivia Klaus: My world was shattered by a three-minute phone call. I had always heard about domestic violence, but it was a problem that happened to other people. Yet, there it was…on the other end of the phone. A close friend of mine was a victim. As my mind started racing for ways to help or fix things, I realized that I was completely helpless. I had no answers, no solutions. I held that phone in silence as I heard the dark secrets of a seemingly perfect marriage unravel.
My painstaking journey to help continued as I started discovering women’s shelters and organizations. Yet, they offered extremely limited resources for victims and those trying to help. Then a conversation with a colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Leonard – author of Convicted Survivors- changed everything. She started talking about her own inspiration for solutions to the crisis at hand. She suggested that my quest include a trip to the most unlikely place – prison!
Since that first visit to prison, and meeting the incredible survivors of Convicted Women Against Abuse, I found that I could never pretend that life was the way it was before. These women were serving life in prison for killing their abusive husbands and I slowly realized they were the experts on domestic violence that I had been searching for. As months of meetings went on and relationships were built, the women soon found out that my background was filmmaking and approached me to help tell their stories. I knew with this request came a long journey, yet I knew their voices must be heard. If these women’s stories could be heard beyond prison walls, then I just knew that countless lives would be saved…..and Sin by Silence was born.
Telegraph21: What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
Olivia Klaus: The title of the film comes from an Abraham Lincoln quote that states, “To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of men.” So, it is our duty to start conversations about this silent problem so that we begin to create environments for victims of abuse to feel comfortable to finally ask for help. To finally speak up and say to that friend, “Is everything alright? I’m really worried about you.” Just saying such a simple phrase could eventually be the difference between life and death for someone. With four women dying a day due to violence in the home, it’s definitely worth the effort to speak up!
Telegraph21: How did you first connect with the organization Convicted Women Against Abuse?
Olivia Klaus: When I had started on the journey to help my friend, I started discovering women’s shelters and organizations. Yet, they offered extremely limited resources for victims and those trying to help. Then a conversation with a colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Leonard – author of Convicted Survivors – changed everything. She started talking about her own inspiration for solutions to the crisis at hand. She suggested that my quest include a trip to the most unlikely place – prison!
The first time I visited the California Institution for Women was in 2001. I was nervous that evening, wondering whom I was about to meet. The group Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA) was comprised of women who had killed the men they once loved. But when the meeting started, I was slowly introduced to women who could be my neighbors, my friends, my sister…or even myself.
Since that first meeting, I have been unable to turn my back on the women of CWAA. They, along with my friend, opened my eyes to a part of the world that I never knew existed. Once that silence had been broken, I found that I could never pretend that life was the way it was before.
Telegraph21: What can be learned from Brenda Clubine’s experience?
Olivia Klaus: I think the most important thing that Brenda and the women of Convicted Women Against Abuse experiences teach us is that abusive relationships can happen to anyone. Abuse sees no boundaries of age, race, class, religion or education – and the statistics show us the fact that 1 in 3 women will experience some sort of abuse in their lifetime. Anyone can find themselves in an abusive relationship having to defend their life. In a split second everything can change.
Telegraph21: What was the most difficult part about filming in the California Institution for Women?
Olivia Klaus: Filming didn’t just happen overnight. There were many approvals needed from the California Department of Corrections. Yet, since I had been a volunteer with CWAA, something that could take a media crew up to six months to gain approval happen for me in one month’s time. I was already an ‘employee’ in the eyes of the officials and employees at the institution. They knew my heart and knew my passion to help these women.
Month after month, year after year, I drove the 70 miles to be at every CWAA meeting. I listened to experiences that were living nightmares. I began trying to raise funds. The women of CWAA believed that they could be a part of impacting the “outside” world and gave the first $1000 – a donation made up from average wages of only 10 cents an hour.
We began the process of filming countless CWAA meetings under the horrible production conditions of prison and state schedules. By participating and listening in on these interactions, we documented several women’s epic stories as they began to discover hope and dignity. Many interviewees openly expressed gratitude for the freedom to tell “the whole story” to someone with whom they felt comfortable. A surprisingly large proportion of the women stated that this was their first opportunity to openly reveal their lives, their abuse, their experiences, and their perceptions. Many members who used to remain in the background started to find their voice and members started inviting other inmates they met on the yard. An entirely new sense of purpose was given to the women of CWAA and a sense of empowerment came from finally being able to have their voices be heard.
Telegraph21: Your source of inspiration?
Olivia Klaus: People have always been my inspiration. I have always had a passion to be a voice for the voiceless. So, I guess it was only natural for me to become a filmmaker because I believe that changing the world starts with a story. Simple or complicated, it doesn’t matter. A good story, well told, can change lives, change laws and can change you.
Telegraph21: What are your thoughts about the continued misconceptions about Domestic Violence in the United States?
Olivia Klaus: Not too long ago, newspapers were cluttered with headlines of the very public act of violence against Rihanna. Overnight, Rihanna’s private nightmare became a public debate. “She deserved it.” “She is trying to get attention.” “She started it.” These kinds of comments revealed a startling response to teen dating violence and the statistics prove it – 1 in 3 teens experience abuse, 2 out of 3 teens who experience abuse never report it.Sadly, Domestic and dating violence isn’t going away anytime soon. Laws are not able to change what goes on behind closed doors. I do think the government plays a vital role in the solution for a violence-free future, yet I think the more important role lies within communities, friends, family and neighbors who step in to help someone experiencing abuse. Every day we can take a step towards improving the quality of our own lives and communities. I wish there was a quick solution, but the fact is that this is going to be a long journey towards change.
One simple thing that everyone can do to make a difference, is to watch Sin by Silence when it premieres on Investigation Discovery on Oct 17th at 8pm ET/PT. Nearly 78 million hones will have the opportunity to get to know the incredible CWAA women. I encourage everyone to use this opportunity to invite their friends over to learn more about the issues. Through the women of CWAA stories of terror and hope, we can all better understand the cycle of violence, the signs of an abuser, and how each and every one of us is responsible for changing the tragedy of domestic violence.
Telegraph21: Do you think the criminal justice system in the United States provides sufficient services for women in prison?
Olivia Klaus: To this day, Convicted Women Against Abuse remains the only inmate-initiated battered women support group in the entire U.S. prison system. Women who remain behind bars, serving a life sentence, are in pain and need the resources to help them heal. Yet, unfortunately most Corrections Departments in this country would rather spend their budgets on guard salaries than help the people who need it the most.
That is what makes CWAA so amazing and unique – started by inmates, run by inmates, to help inmates. We should all take a lesson in activism from these women. Because if they can come out of the worst nightmares, to become healed and empowered women who have helped change laws from behind prison walls; than we most certainly can do our part to make a difference out here by inviting our friends over to watch the television premier of Sin by Silence on Oct 17th and start the ripple effect to make our homes and communities safer.
ABOUT THE FILM: http://www.SinBySilence.com
ABOUT THE BROADCAST: http://www.InvestigationDiscovery.com/Silence
Distributed by t21 partner Women Make Movies, THE LEARNING, by Ramona Diaz, will be broadcast on POV on PBS, Tuesday, September 20. To see local listings, click here. We had the opportunity to interview Ramona about the film and her filming experience.
t21: What inspired you to make The Learning?
RD: When I first heard about the Baltimore City Public School System
(BCPSS) recruiting Filipino teachers, it sounded so weird and
intriguing. Intuitively, I knew there was a story in it somewhere.
Then, when I met the teachers, I saw how dedicated, brave, and hopeful
they were, I knew I had to tell their stories. Overseas Filipino
Workers (OFW) sacrifice more than anyone should and carry the burden
of supporting a large part of the Philippine economy on their
over-burdened shoulders. I wanted to pay homage to them with this
t21: What was the biggest obstacle in making it?
RD: As always, funding was an issue. But I was lucky enough to get some
R&D money to film the recruitment and from there edit a fundraising
trailer. And of course, filming in the classrooms was difficult just
because classrooms are difficult environments to shoot in the first
place – the noise levels are off the charts and it’s very
unpredictable. We were dealing with teenagers and adolescents who
may love to be filmed one day but may not want you around the next. I
totally got this having been a teenager once myself. So we did have a
deal with them that if on any given day they did not want to be
filmed, they could just tell us privately and we’d film around them.
This arrangement worked well.
t21. How did you first identify and connect with the four women that you feature?
RD: I met them when I was invited to film the recruitment process. They
were some of only a handful of teachers who allowed me to film their
interview. I figured if they had the guts to have the camera in the
room while they were interviewing for what was probably the most
important job prospect in their lives, they’d probably be cool with me
hanging around them for a year and a half. I was also wanting to film
a teacher who was leaving an infant behind (Grace), a breadwinner of
her entire family (Angel), someone who had been teaching for a long
time (Dorotea), and someone who had a different reason for going to
the US, aside from the financial (Rhea).
t21: What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
RD: I just want viewers who may not necessarily meet women like Dorotea,
Angel, Grace and Rhea to get to know their stories and walk in their
shoes for 90 minutes or so. So if, and when, they come across women
like them, they have a little bit of empathy and know what they’ve
t21: What was it like filming in a school setting? Did it impact the classroom activities?
RD: We filmed in the classrooms for an entire year. At first of course it
was a little odd to have a film crew in the classroom. However, after
the first week or so, the kids got used to it so we were just part of
the reality of their day. One thing I made sure was that the teachers
got through what they needed to get through that day and we weren’t a
hindrance to that process.
t21: What do you think about the current situation of public education in the United States?
RD: I hesitate to answer this, I’m not an education expert. So I preface
this answer by saying that based on my experience filming in the four
schools in Baltimore for a year, I believe that the way the curriculum
is presented leaves much to be desired because they are so beholden to
doing well on standardized tests they become dull and rote. One of
the school officials described the children as “kids who do not want
to be in the classroom, they’d rather be hanging out in the streets.”
And then I realized, I’d be one of those wanting to hang out in the
streets myself. I also realized that kids do want to hang out in the
schools if you give them reason and inspire them to do so. One of the
teachers, Angel, formed an after school Math Club and she got around a
dozen kids to sign up. She made it fun and formed a community where
the kids could explore math on their own terms. It was so inspiring
and hopeful to see that.
t21: What do you like most about Baltimore? And about the Philippines?
RD: The Philippines will always be my spiritual home. I try and go back
at least once a year. It’s a place where I don’t have to start
sentences with “in the Philippines, we do it this way…” It’s nice,
it’s comfort food. However, America (I say America because I’ve lived
in so many cities in this country) is where I can grow professionally
and intellectually and be challenged to take on projects and have the
support to do so.
- Check out this article about t21 on miniguide!
- THE HERETICS, a Women Make Movies film will be screened at the 92 Y in NYC.
- Congrats George & Brad in Bed for winning best doc short at the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival!
- Dirt! The Movie is a Parade Magazine pick of movie of the week http://bit.ly/cGIo5o!
We’re thrilled to announce our partnership with Women Make Movies! Today’s clip from El General is the first film we’ve featured through this partnership and we’re looking forward to many more exciting collaborations with them.
Watch this clip about a revolutionary general who became president of Mexico in 1924: http://www.telegraph21.com/video/el-general