At the Sundance Film Festival on Friday night, an independent film 'Kidnapped For Christ' premiered to a packed house, leaving a strong emotional impression on everyone who saw it. ‘Kidnapped For Christ’ is the story emerging from young filmmaker Kate Logan’s quest to explore the controversial world of Escuela Caribe - an American-run Christian behavior modification camp located in the Dominican Republic far beyond the reach of American laws.
You may recall the name "Escuela Caribe" as it was reported in the US on mainstream news channels because of the shocking stories coming out of the camp told by former students, American teenagers who were taken from the US and sent to the Dominican Republic to be 'fixed'. ‘Kidnapped For Christ’ delves into the tragedy behind these stories.
After the premiere, I had the pleasure of chatting with the creative team behind the film - Musician Lance Bass, Film Producer Tom DeSanto, and Actor Mike Manning.
Tom DeSanto, producer "Kidnapper For Christ"
Tom DeSanto is known to most of world for his legendary Hollywood blockbusters like ‘X-Men’, ‘X-2’, and the ‘Transformers’ trilogy. I talked with him about his latest indie project, "Kidnapped For Christ."
Justin Howard: What prompted you to get involved with a film like this?
Tom DeSanto: Years ago I had a friend who was kidnapped and brought to one of these camps. He left very much a free spirit and came back very much a broken soul, so I became very interested in this story back then. I became so interested I started developing ideas on turning this type of story into a feature film. When a friend of mine, Mike C. Manning, told me about the film and asked if I wanted to get involved, I jumped at the chance. I feel very lucky to be involved with such a great group of filmmakers and being part of the team in helping to put a spotlight on this story.
Justin Howard : When producing a film, how do you pick your topic?
Tom DeSanto : For me the most important thing when producing a film is "do I have a passion for the subject matter?" Even though I am known for movies I have wanted to do since I was a kid like Transformers and X-Men, this story really struck a nerve with me. I think sometimes these kids who are in these camps feel like they have been abandoned, but it is important to let them know there are a lot of people who do care and are willing to help fight for them.
Justin Howard : How do you intend people to feel when seeing this film?
Tom DeSanto : There's a great scene in the film "Network" where people start screaming out the window "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." I want this movie to have that same call to action and for the viewer to become part of the solution to this problem. I think sometimes people feel like they have no voice, but together we can be a game changer.
Justin Howard: This film has a very strong conscience, how did it develop?
Tom DeSanto: The wonderful thing about the story of this film is that it's really two stories in one. The first story is, of course, the story of some of these kids who have been kidnapped out of their homes with their parents’ permission and taken to these military-style re-education camps. But, the other story is equally as fascinating which is Kate's story. She starts out very well-meaning and a bit naïve, but as she goes down to the Dominican Republic and sees with her own eyes what's going on in these camps, she comes of age and has an amazing realization about her faith. In doing so, she sees that sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Justin Howard: Anything we should keep our eyes open for in the future?
Tom DeSanto: ‘Transformers 4 Age of Extinction’ is hitting theaters this summer. I am currently writing a project called ‘Gods’. I am really excited by it as it is something completely fresh and new and is an idea that has never been on screen before.
Lance Bass, Musician Turned Producer
Lance Bass is best known for the music he made with the American Pop group 'N Sync,' yet like the indie film he helped to produce, Lance is a bit of a trailblazer, making headline news in 2006 when he came out as being gay. In our conversation about the film, I asked why he took a chance on such a controversial topic, and did he have a personal connection to the film.
Justin Howard: What is the message of the film?
Lance Bass: There's an entire industry of rogue "treatment" programs for teens, and many of them severely traumatize the teens they are supposed to be helping. We got unprecedented access to film inside one of these places, and the stories we captured are horrifying. We want to shine a light on this issue so that no more children have to suffer mistreatment and abuse at unregulated reform programs.
Justin Howard: What inspired you to get involved with a film like this? Was it a personal connection to the film's narrative?
Lance Bass: I was personally touched by the main subject of the film, David, who was sent to this program after coming out to his parents. I know what it's like to feel different and to be afraid to reveal who you really are to those you love. The strength that this young man showed going through this program, which was aimed as reprogramming him into something he wasn't, is truly inspirational.
Justin Howard: What does the film reveal about us as a society in your opinion?
Lance Bass : The incredible part of this story is that when people heard about what happened to David, they didn't sit still and do nothing - they did what it took to rescue him. I think this film reveals the dark side of our society, and what people will do when they are given ultimate control over others, and the best side of people, who will risk it all to help someone they love.
Justin Howard: It seems incredible that the people actually send their children off to a different country to 'cure' them. Why do they do it?
Lance Bass: There are many reasons. Some parents are desperate to help their children who have gotten into a lot of trouble; others are overacting to normal teenage rebellion. Many are manipulated by these programs that use scare tactics to convince parents to ship their kids off and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to "save" them.
Justin Howard: What’s next for you?
Lance Bass: I am having another crack at music. I'll be releasing my first single next week!
Mike Manning, From MTV to Indie Film Producer
It was during one of the after parties for the Golden Globes that I first met Mike Manning, who introduced me to the film "Kidnapped For Christ." What he did not reveal to me at the time was his connection to the film as a producer and his sincere passion for the project.
Justin Howard: How did you launch the film into today's world?
Mike Manning: This film in particular involved a great deal of social media and online crowd-funding. We used two Indie Go Go campaigns and one Kickstarter campaign. We used social media pages like Twitter and FaceBook to develop a base of followers, and used YouTube and Vimeo to host trailers and PSAs about the film. Eventually we also formed a Tumblr and Instagram, and upon hearing we were accepted into Slamdance Kate (Director) and I did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) that was featured in the "Top 5" all day. All of this linked back to the website of course, which will continue to be the hub of our "call to action" for those that see the film.
Justin Howard: What drew you to this film?
Mike Manning: One of the teenagers in this film who was sent to Escuela Caribe to endure the damaging psychological and physical treatment is David. David is a friend of mine from college. We met right after this happened and while the film was in the early stages of production. My response was simple: "How can I help?"
Justin Howard: It seems like you resonate with the film; can you give us some more details on this?
Mike Manning: A parent is shown a website of smiling staff and obedient kids. A parent is convinced to have their child "kidnapped" and flown to a camp, location not disclosed to the teen. The child is mistreated, and all unscreened outside communication is shut off. There isn't currently any Federal regulation against such mistreatment... Something is wrong with this scenario.
Justin Howard: What do you wish people to know before seeing the film?
Mike Manning: Kate Logan (Director) went to Escuela Caribe to show an honest story about the "good things" this camp was doing for the teens there. She genuinely thought that would be the subject of her film project. What she found was the exact opposite, and that is the story we ended up telling.
Justin Howard: Future Plans?
Mike Manning : To put this film in front of as many eyes as possible and to combine that with a "call to action" via our website, to facilitate change in the regulations of the troubled teen industry
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