Currently screening at the 2012 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, My Name Is Faith is the heartbreaking and inspiring story of Faith, a 12-year-old girl suffering from Attachment Disorder. This disorder occurs when an infant does not bond properly with their mother. This can result in some frightening behaviour from the children. Their ability to trust another person is severely affected, and they tend to lash out with violence in order to force people away from them. Just before the world premiere screening at Hot Docs, I had the opportunity to speak with Faith’s mother (and the film’s director) Tiffany Sudela-Junker and producer Jorge Torres-Torres about the challenges of creating this documentary, the message that they hoped people will take from the film, and Faith’s progress.
The documentary follows Faith and her family as they struggle to help her overcome her disorder by attending a camp for families also dealing with Attachment Disorder. This wasn’t always the vision for the film, however, as Jorge Torres-Torres told me. “Even when the film was being shot, there was really no clear idea of what was to be the focus. It wasn’t until a few months into it that we realized that Faith was the focus.” They’ve certainly captured Faith’s struggle, but I had to wonder what was left behind after the decision was made to follow just one family. “One of the cuts of the film focused on four kids. Unfortunately you have to break it all down. We had to break it down to the essentials,” Jorge reveals.
Since the camp is for families with children who often react violently, the difficulties with filming — and even being allowed into the camp — were a challenge all on their own. Tiffany Sudela-Junker spoke about the importance of the filmmakers being respectful of not only the families, but the entire process. “Jorge and [co-director] Jason Banker had to go through the actual camp training in order to just interface with the kids at all. We felt that it was so important that they not, in any way, disrupt the theraputic process. They went through a lot just to be there.” Sudela-Junker continued by explaining how Banker and Torres-Torres had to understand where the children were coming from to make filming go smoothly. “The task of filming these kids who don’t trust, and then putting a camera into the mix in a situation for them that is uncomfortable, because camp, at first, is uncomfortable because it’s not home, that’s really a lot. The fact that they were able to gain trust from the kids was pretty incredible.”
The first few days at the camp did hold some of these challenges. Torres-Torres explains, “The first day a kid lashed at me and grabbed the camera. He was not to be filmed and he was very upset, but by the end of the week he was shaking my hand, telling me where he was from, when can we see the movie. This kid was very emotional and came up to me and gave me a little gift. He was just so touched that we thought that he was important enough to have this attention, and he somehow went from being very violent towards me, to saying he was going to miss me.” As the kids grew to trust the filmmakers, we began discussing whether the filming may have played a role in the kids’ development of trust.
Sudela-Junker added to this, by saying, “I think a really good example of that is Faith. We had decided that we were going to be meeting with [Faith's] birth mom, and making the decision to film that was a big decision that she participated in. She actually felt like she wanted to have Jorge and Jason there as part of her support team. They had become such fixtures in her life that it felt like they were around for all the important stuff that happened, so they should naturally be there for that.” Sudela-Junker noted that the filming had a positive effect on Faith. “I think, for Faith, opening up with Jorge and Jason, and being able to be real and connect away from us, they really are the first people she was able to do that with. I think it helped her. I think this film has been theraputic for her in a lot of ways.”
Even before the documentary screened, there were concerns about some of the methods of discipline at the camp. If a child began to get violent, a parent would have to restrain them by wrapping their arms around them, to prevent them from hurting themselves or others around them. I asked Sudela-Junker what she thought about concerns audience members might have. “I don’t think people are able to understand, and that’s why we wanted to do the film. It’s one of those things that’s impossible to understand. No parent ever, ever, ever wants to restrain a child or anything like that, and especially when you have a child that you know has been hurt, but when you’re trying to get them to be at a level of functioning where they’re not a danger to themselves and to other people, it’s just really hard. I think it’s just one of those things that you have to live to understand. Our hope with the film is to shed a little bit of light on what it means to be parenting a child who’s in that kind of pain.”
As a parent myself, I found there was a lot that could be learned from the film, although I don’t have to deal with the same situation. Parenting is a joy that is hard to express, but it can also be one of the most frustrating times of a person’s life. Watching parents who have to handle not only the regular struggles of parenthood, but do it with children suffering from Attachment Disorder, and still come out smiling with unconditional love for their kids, is inspiring. I wanted to know if Sudela-Junker felt there was something that all parents could learn from My Name Is Faith, even if they may not understand the situation. “Sure, I think that for me it’s the fact that as parents, we all just want our kids to have a happy life, and sometimes getting there is really tough. Parenting is hard, and it’s a lot harder than you ever think it’s going to be until you’re in it, and even though our situation is compounded, it’s still the same thing.”
A documentary can only capture a moment in time, often leaving the viewer wondering what happened after the camera has stopped filming. Faith had made so much progress over the course of filming, I wanted to know if she had come even further. “She’s had tons of progress since camp,” Sudela-Junker tells me. “The best way to describe where Faith is right now is that she’s definitely connected and bonded with her family, and she has embraced her role in our family and in life. I do think she struggles really hard. Relationships are still really challenging for her. She did all of that hard work and she has a conscience now, and that’s a beautiful and amazing thing. She has a friend now, and that’s a great thing. That’s a huge accomplishment for her.”
There are some troubling moments in the documentary as viewers learn about Attachment Disorder and the way it can affect children, but watching Faith progress to a point where she understands right and wrong is very moving. Although Faith does not participate in the camp herself anymore, Tiffany still tries to stay involved. “I have tons of friends, and am connected still with a lot of the families who do camp. I try to stay really involved and try to support families as much as I can.” Knowing that there are parents out there who struggle as much, or more, than I and other parents do, gives you the strength to continue. Faith’s story shows us that everything can work out, as long as we are willing to be supportive. As Tiffany said, “We all just want our kids to have a happy life.”
My Name is Faith screens once more at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm. Check the festival website for tickets and details.