My Name Is Faith
"Just because a child has a past doesn't mean they're broken forever..."
- Beth Thomas
SYNOPSIS (Download )
The bonding that takes place in the early years of a child's life is crucial for developing the ability to express emotion and establish relationships. In the US, it's estimated that five children a day die from neglect - but what about those who endure neglect and survive?
Meet Faith, a 13-year-old girl who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and what's called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). This powerful and at times very distressing film follows Faith as she attempts to heal from the trauma inflicted by her birth-mother's lifestyle and begins to develop trust for her new adoptive parents. But with one as emotionally bruised as Faith, it can be a seemingly impossible task for new parents to gain her love and trust, and their struggle as a new family begins to take its' toll on all.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The statistics are staggering. So many millions of children are orphaned, abandoned, neglected and abused that assigning a number to such a multitude of wounded souls would be almost meaningless. Every day approximately five children die of neglect in the U.S. alone. Of those who survive, what's next? No one could manage to endure such experiences unscathed.
This is the story of a 13-year-old girl working hard to overcome a troubling past while learning to accept and embrace the love and possibility that now surround her. Born as Brianna to a drug-addicted mother, she and her baby brother lived in harrowing conditions before being adopted by a young couple fully invested in raising their children to be whole, happy and strong.
But getting there has not been, and is not easy; it's sometimes even scary. Healing from such serious scars is an ongoing process that entails willingness, forgiveness, patience, resilience, and a host of other qualities. It's a test of anyone's mettle, let alone a family. Love is obviously a key ingredient. Without it, where would any of us be? But beyond love is where the work begins... and it starts with faith.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) results from a lack of bonding between an infant and its' mother. As the child grows, he or she may be unable to express or receive affection, using that first broken relationship as a model for all others. When an infant or young child's needs are not met or are met with inappropriate responses such as anger or even violence, the possibility of creating a trusting relationship is replaced by fear, frustration and ultimately rage. Survival becomes paramount to love.
"That break in the attachment affects their conscious development and they are different. They look very cute; they look very charming. They have to be parented differently or they are dangerous."
- Nancy Thomas, Therapeutic Parenting Specialist
Tiffany and Jason Junker were firmly committed to their action when they decided to adopt siblings through Child Protective Services. They took the classes, filed the papers and in relatively short order, got word of a sister and brother who needed a home and family.
Tif spent about seven years working as a nanny for families with a range of special situations. Jason was a Big Brother and Eagle Scout ready to take on the challenge of parenting. Tif placed two children for adoption as a teen and suffered five miscarriages while married. It was time for them to become a family.
"We went to an orientation about waiting children and decided that we wanted to adopt a child who was already here and had no place to go," said Tif. "After more thought we decided we really wanted to keep siblings together."
In order to adopt in Texas, hopeful parents must first foster each adoptive child for at least nine months. The State's goal is to reunite the child with the birth parents. Adoption was a fallback position for the state, but not for the Junkers.
"My husband and I made a promise to each other that from the very minute the children walked into our house, they were our kids," said Tif. "We made a vow as if we gave birth to them, whether the adoption went through or not."
A beautiful little girl arrived with her little brother, Jonah, in tow. Born of different fathers, but sharing the same addicted birth-mother, these two adorable children essentially grew up in a meth lab sharing a room with a stranger and known sex offender. The Junkers had been expecting an infant and a four-year-old, but along came a 15-month-old toddler and a defiant girl of six for whom the princess bedroom they'd prepared was of no interest at all. This little girl was tough, smart and a true survivor. Transitioning from what she knew into a home filled with love might sound ideal, but love can be scary when you don't know what it is.
It wasn't long before Tif began to notice her daughter displaying disturbing behavior. She was aggressive, inappropriately sexual, threatening and potentially violent with others, including schoolmates, her brother and her adoptive parents. As the situation escalated, the Junkers immersed their daughter and themselves in intensive therapy, sensitive and discerning discipline, powerful doses of love and even alarms on bedroom doors. Lives were at stake, not the least of which was this scared little girl's.
At the advice of a therapist, the entire Junker family went to camp. This was not your ordinary camp, but a therapeutic camp in Canada run by Nancy Thomas, a birth and adoptive mother, grandmother and someone with years of experience in therapeutic parenting and treatment for children with intense behavior challenges and psychiatric disorders. There, they met families dealing with similar circumstances and discovered that they were far from alone.
They found a sense of community, parenting techniques, explanations for behaviors, coping skills and a lot of fun. Tif felt like she "arrived to camp with a stranger and went home with a daughter." But away from camp, the transformation didn't last long. Not even one whole day. Without the support system in every day life, the Junkers felt like they were back at square one.
"I understand what it means to get to the point of desperation as a parent. A lot of kids aren't grateful. There is a difference between the normal kid realm of lack of gratitude and when your kid really wants to kill you."
- Tiffany Junker
With so much progress and hope, the Junkers were not about to let the experience dissipate to nothing. So, with their unique brand of perseverance and fortitude, Tif and J rolled up their sleeves, raised the funds, and worked with Nancy Thomas to create their own Camp Connect program. The following spring they hosted camp for themselves and 15 other families. This time, there was a breakthrough -- hard, painful, deep and powerful. The girl who was Brianna held on tight, faced the pain, and confronted her own self-protective destructive pattern. She allowed herself to shed her skin and emerge renewed and alive.
Through and beyond the process, she is learning to accept her past and go forth restored in a life of her own design, with her own identity. Confidence has replaced insecurity. Her voice is clear and strong. She is the embodiment and essence of the name she chose for herself, the girl who now tells the world, "My name is Faith."
"I do not ever want to come across like we have not had our own issues to overcome, our own problems to face or like we handle this situation perfectly. We struggle like everyone else. It would be a huge disservice to every other family struggling with a child of trauma to pretend we do not get it wrong too."
- Tiffany Junker
It takes a lot to face your darkest fears and in this film, we see young Faith meet her birth-mother and reveal herself and her feelings with no guarantees of the outcome. Perhaps her courage came from the growth she experienced at camp, her new found trust for her adoptive family or in realizing the strength within herself. It's bolstered by the safety of a hug shared with her adoptive mother and in allowing her vulnerability to show through the intimacy between them when Faith is asked, "Listen to your heart. What does it say?" It's in the moments of the everyday that she evolves.
This project, is infused with compassion and hope to its core. Tif Sudela-Junker is a resourceful mother, so compelled to help her children, she embarked on a film making mission to give her daughter a voice and to shed light the emotional journey for children and families facing the most challenging of family dynamics. She teamed up with Jason Banker and Jorge Torres-Torres to capture sensitive moments typically unseen by cameras. Jason and Jorge were able to enter this vulnerable world without intrusion in order to convey to audiences this harsh reality and message of courage. It took great bravery for each of the participants to allow themselves to be seen and heard. Without their willingness, none of this would be possible. This is a film that explores the ugliness and possibility that result from a painful childhood with a refreshing reverence and respect for those down in it.
Director's Statement by Tif Sudela-Junker:
I never set out to produce and direct a film. As a mother, I just wanted to tell Faith's story and make people aware of what so many families are going through.
This film is my effort to honor my daughter's hard work to overcome pain. It's a way to pay homage to every person that has had to work hard to overcome a traumatic experience.
It was a miracle that this film was made. Here we were, this family in crisis, in the fight of our lives, and making a film?!? We were dealing with our own family, hosting others, pulling together a camp, asking other families to expose themselves in the middle of a therapeutic experience, doing that ourselves and setting out to tell our story while it was happening, finding the people, the funding and putting ourselves right out there in front of everyone, in our most intimate and vulnerable moments. I honestly look back and say to my self, "A. What the hell were we thinking? and B. How did we do that??!!!"
The truth is, I had this vision of what I wanted to accomplish: an artful telling of our story that sheds light on the depth of this experience, honors the hard work these kids have in front of them to have a life, inspires hope for families and serves as a call to action for people to try to understand, help and support children and families.
We have a film because of Jason and Jorge, who took these families (especially mine) to heart, made us all feel comfortable sharing our most vulnerable moments, and stood up for us by making it possible to tell our story. Jason and Jorge, who are not parents, went through special training to even be allowed to interact with the children. Kids who are not comfortable with even their own parents, and the filmmakers had the task of capturing them on camera without distraction, agitation or emotional harm. My daughter's rapport with Jason is an amazing thing to see. Jorge and Jason became such a significant presence in our lives, their support became apparent and important to Faith. Jason and Jorge became advocates, protectors and friends. Together, their interest in exploring our world and their unique ability to become part of it without altering it in any way were simply imperative to bringing the story to life. Every mother gives careful consideration before putting their child in front of a camera, when your child has been hurt and is brave enough to be sharing that pain with the world, protective takes on a whole new meaning. Jason and Jorge are great filmmakers and caring people with integrity, without whom the idea for a film to help people understand families like ours simply would have died. That honor and sensitivity carried over into post-production, where Jorge immersed himself in countless hours of footage. His compassion and artistic connection to this material translates in how the film connects with and captures the people involved with the utmost respect for their circumstance.
We wanted to tell a personal story, a non-traditional telling of our own perspective, avant-garde because, in the wake of today's sensational reality culture, our film treats a highly controversial subject and situation with humanity and reverence rarely found on screen.
I think Jason and Jorge would tell you their experience making this film was unlike any other project. The three of us have a great working relationship and personal connection. This film was a collaboration in the purest sense of the word, which, I have learned is an unconventional, rare and beautiful thing for a film to be.
- Tiffany Junker, Spring 2011
Filmmaker Q & A for MY NAME IS FAITH
1. Please explain your inspiration and point of view when you first started developing and collaborating on MY NAME IS FAITH and why you made this film. How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?
Jason Banker: When I originally started working on the project I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Tif had contacted Jonathan Caouette, a filmmaker friend of mine with the idea of exploring a documentary about a camp that helps families in crisis. Her description of how intense the experience was convinced us we needed to head to Texas with our camera's and see if there was a film there. After our first day of shooting I knew this was going to be an amazing documentary. From there it was really a matter of understanding Tif's story and what she needed to tell the world.
Jorge Torres-Torres: I was asked to join the filming of the camps and did not know what to expect but immediately felt the importance of capturing these families lives. All projects need to pose a challenge and this project showed that from day one.
Tiffany Junker: As a family, we felt misunderstood, disconnected. We were going through the fight of our lives and people just could not understand or relate to us or our child. Faith had done all of this important, really hard work, we all had, and our friends and family were trying to figure out why we couldn't make it to the family reunion or the soccer game. We felt isolated. We had to do something to help people understand what families like ours go through. To honor the hard work Faith was doing, to help her, help all of us, stand proudly in our truth, be heard and continue to heal.
2. What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Please explain your history in filmmaking.
JB: Filmmaking for me began as a way of simply wanting to document things that I thought were important. I would always be that guy with the camera trying to capture the moment. I began shooting skate videos with my friends, then moved on to experimental shorts in college, and later documentaries.
JT: I never went to film school. My father was a 16mm film collector throughout his life so I grew up watching every film he brought home. I realized early on how powerful filmmaking is.
TJ: I never planned to contribute much to the MAKING of the film - I just wanted people to understand how hard it is to turn early trauma into a fulfilling life. I realized early on that these families were trusting me with their children in the most vulnerable circumstances imaginable and that if I was going to allow my child to be front and center, I needed to be VERY involved with the process. Jason and Jorge, amazingly, honored and facilitated that vulnerability and incorporated it into their artistic expression of our story. Once we established the tremendous trust and mutual respect necessary, which came pretty naturally between us... I felt like Jason and Jorge always appreciated that so much was at stake for these families and our number one goal simply had to be not to cause one more ounce of harm than any family had already experienced. The result was this amazing collaborative effort, I believe, is one of those once in a lifetime experiences...we became this naturally cohesive team, it was pretty incredible actually.
3. What would you like the audience to 'take away' after they have seen the film?
JB: Hopefully the audience will take away the fact that these families are doing their best to make a better life for their children. I can't imagine the stress and difficulty of being in their situation, and regardless of whether or not you have children, it's an extremely emotional and poignant ride.
TJ: I want people to begin to understand the emotional journey children who come from hard places have ahead of them. That those impacted by trauma can heal. To begin to understand it takes more than just a whole lot of love, it takes hard work and a TON of support and my greatest hope is to spur people to think about how they can help a family trying to help a child heal....even in the smallest way.
4. What was your biggest challenge in developing or producing this project?
JB: My biggest challenge in developing "My Name Is Faith," was finding the balance between wanting to shoot everything and realizing when to give the families space. It was a very delicate situation and I wanted to be sensitive to what the families were going through. Sometimes I had to back off.
JT: The biggest challenge was the editing process. Having to create a narrative out of hundreds of hours of footage was not an easy thing to do.
5. What is the most important message in this film to you?
JB: The most important message to me is to realize that any trauma a child suffers in the first few years of their life will most likely take a lifetime for them to overcome.
TJ: The importance of human connection, the devastating impact when it's broken or missing, and the work required to repair the damage.
6. When did you meet your collaborators? How did those partnerships come about?
JB: I've known Tif for almost 10 years, but didn't get to meet her personally until this project began. Jorge and I have been working together closely on film projects for the past 4 years. I met both of them through my filmmaker friend Jonathan Caouette.
JT: I met Jason in 2007 during the making of TOAD ROAD and since worked with him on several films. I was introduced to Tif in 2009 during my first camp shoot.
TJ: I was introduced to Jason by our mutual friend, Director, Jonathan Caouette. Jonathan and I have been close friends for over 20 years. When I consulted him about the idea of a film, Jason quickly came on board and brought Jorge into the mix a bit later....Eventually, Jonathan Dana saw the film and agreed to Executive Produce. I am eternally grateful to all of them for believing this was a story that deserved to be told.
7. What made this project come together and be successful?
JB: I think it was the collective passion from everyone who wanted people to wake up and see that Attachment Disorder is a huge problem. This film wouldn't have been made without the realization that this was going to be a call to action.
TJ: Superhuman, astronomical, beyond imagination amounts of cooperation, perseverance, trust and the culmination of just the right strengths....and an amazingly strong, brave and insightful kid.
8. Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences (if any).
JB: My approach was to gain the trust of all the families I shot with, before filming. It was going to be vital that everyone was on the same page as to what kind of film we intended to make. At first I would meet with the families, without a camera, and let them know who I was and also get a sense of what they were comfortable letting me shoot. In turn they allowed me access to some very personal situations.
JT: Filmmaking has always been an organic experience for me. At an early age I saw "Fitzcarraldo", a Werner Herzog film, and from that day my perception of what is documentary and fiction became blurred.
9. What was your most memorable experience about shooting MY NAME IS FAITH?
JB: My most memorable experience shooting "My Name Is Faith" were the moments where I got to interview Faith one on one. In the film those are the scene's that stick out as having an extra bit of magic to me.
TJ: Well, since the film is about our lives, all of it is pretty memorable. But three specific film moments stand out for me.
1. The angry pillow scene was the first time I allowed Jason to film my daughter alone. It was NEVER my intension to allow my fragile child to be on camera without a parent right there. Jason proved to me and to Faith (which is absolutely no easy task) that she was safe with him. He is a brilliant and gifted filmmaker.
2. The first time I saw footage Jorge edited - I was overwhelmed and instantly knew he managed to capture the spirit of the film in those first tiny moments...I burst into tears, it was the most validating, emotional, amazing experience.
3. When Faith and I discussed her visit with Andrea and she asked for Jason and Jorge to come along and film. She said "I need them on my safety team"...the delicate and respectful manner they handled my daughter during the making of this film impacted her in such a positive way, that she truly considers them part of her support system, and they are. Then on the way home from that emotionally intense meeting - Jorge and Jason watching cartoons with my kids in the back of my mini van was pretty awesome too.
10. Please address the music in the film. How did these choices come about?
JB: Musically I've always liked minimal atmospheric songs. I feel they do a great job of translating complex emotion, and are well suited for soundtracks. So I picked a bunch of songs that I had been listening to at the time and gave them to Jorge. From that group he chose what he liked and added a few more indie singer songwriter tracks for some of the uplifting and hopeful moments.
JT: The music needed to be gentle as to not interfere much with the action on screen. We also liked the idea of acoustic instruments in such a southern setting.
11. How do you think MY NAME IS FAITH fits into your personal growth as a director? How will it affect your future projects?
JB: The film represents my most socially conscious and optimistic work to date. "Faith" influenced my next documentary which I just finished called "Squatter" which is about homeless people in New York. I think I'll continue to make documentaries that offer glimpses into places that most people will never know. I'm a huge fan of following social outsiders and underdogs.
12. Share something unique about the film. It can be related to the subject, the title, the making of the film, the vision behind the film, casting, location, script, etc.
JB: The most unique thing about the film is the collaborative spirit with which it was made. Normally there are clearly defined roles for each person in the production, but we never really had that. It was pretty much a group effort between the three of us to create this film. Which is why we all share producer and director credits.
TJ: Everything about this film is different. Beginning with access - this is not a situation a film crew would typically be invited into, these are not people who would typically be okay being filmed. The subject is usually not part of the production, there is usually one director and in ways this film directed itself and in ways it had three directors. Name a standard practice really, and I can identify a way we've deviated from it.
13. What are some of your favorite films, and what are your other creative influences?
JB: Some of my favorite films are "Eraserhead", "Gummo", "Ken Park" pretty much anything that smacks you in the face. I'm really influence by outsider artists, dark minimal music, and foreign lands.
14. Future projects in the pipeline? Tell us!
JB: My next documentary is already finished it's called "Squatter" and deals with homeless people living on the streets of New York. I'm currently going in another direction and developing a fictional horror film with Jorge. It's always good to try something new and mix things up.
Faith is now in 7th grade, homeschooling and continuing to grow and heal. Faith is bonded to her parents and feels safe and like she is an important part of her "family community". For seven years she has learned and practiced using the tools to live a healthy happy life. She and her brother have a support system in place and are taking steps each day toward stability.
She and her mother are working on a book together. Faith is an avid reader, loves art, creative writing, sports, listening to music and reciting poetry.
She still struggles a great deal with connections and though she has come a long, long way, she still has a great deal of work ahead of her to achieving happy, healthy, reciprocal relationships.
You know that warm sinking feeling that moves through your body when you've disappointed or upset your parent. I know for me, there is no feeling worse in the world than the way I feel when I make my Mom cry. We don't realize how well that feeling serves us, its the very birthplace of empathy, compassion, vulnerability, understanding, human relation, community, hope, honor, security, connection and love.
Faith does not get that feeling in the same way.
She gets a euphoric, victorious feeling when she hurts someone, at first.
Her triumph is that she has found her way to the sinking feeling of guilt, and the work still in front of Faith is finding it faster and finding it internally instead of with outside help and in finding the gifts in life that come from knowing it.
It feels so weird to say, as her parent, I'm happy she's learned to feel guilty, but I am. It's taken a lot of hard work for Faith to find that - its called conscience. There's a very big difference between shame and guilt, shame is "I am bad" guilt is "I feel bad for something I did, because I am a good person". Guilt is an imperative emotion for human connection, shame disables the ability to connect.
The reward of seeing my daughter access the foundation she's worked so hard to accept, the foundation we have laid in moments like facing her birth-mother in a healthy, strong confrontation and still having and showing compassion and love for her.....those are the moments I say to myself "this kids going to be okay."- Tiffany Sudela-Junker
Letter from Faith
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, 2012
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
TIF SUDELA-JUNKER (PRODUCER/DIRECTOR) and her husband Jason are considered therapeutic parents, therapeutic parenting coaches and therapeutic respite providers. Since working directly with their therapist and attending training workshops with Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. Karyn Purvis, and Dr. Carol Stock Kranowitz, MA. Tif has provided respite, parent coaching and mentoring for many families directly and dozens through phone support and advocacy. She and her family currently live in the Seattle area, where they strive to continue helping children from tough beginnings to heal.
JASON BANKER (PRODUCER/DIRECTOR/CINEMATOGRAPHER) is an independent filmmaker currently living in New York City. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, he attained a BFA in photography from York College. As associate producer of the award winning film Tarnation and cinematographer for All Tomorrow's Parties and Teenage Paparazzo, he has already been involved with successful indie documentaries. Focusing on youth culture, he documents his subjects reckless journey's of self-discovery. Banker's directorial debut "Toad Road" won him a Best Director award at the 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival, and Best Feature at the Lausanne Underground Film Festival.
JORGE TORRES-TORRES (PRODUCER/DIRECTOR/EDITOR) is a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, New York. Born in Puerto Rico to a film collector, Jorge is a self-taught filmmaker and has been making films and music videos since the late 90's.
We have hundreds of thousands of foster parents in the United States who are working day and night 7 days a week doing all they can to help a wounded child to heal. They're not being honored; they're not being appreciated. They're not even getting the help and the training they need. When we stand beside them and honor and lift them, we are making our country a better place. The violence has got to stop. It's scary out there. They're killing each other in schools. They're stabbing each other in the parks for something fun to do. They want to beat up little old ladies for an entertainment in the evening. Those are the children we're raising and we're trying to turn them around. Stand beside the parents and they can do it."
- Nancy Thomas, Therapeutic Parenting Specialist
PressThe Hollywood Reporter - Slamdance 2013 Review
Hammer To Nail - Slamdance 2013 Preview
Fandor - Daily Slamdance 2013 Awards & Reviews
Deadline Hollywood - Slamdance
CriterionCast - Joshua reviews Jason Banker, Jorge Torres-Torres & Tiffany Sudela-Junker's My Name Is Faith [Slamdance Review]
Reel Honest Reviews - With A Little Faith Comes A Lot Of Hope
Screen Daily - The Dirties, My Name Is Faith among Slamdance winners
The Salt Lake Tribune - Slamdance enters 19th year as robust complement to Sundance
Filmmaker Magazine - Critic's Notebook: Slamdance 2013, Part One
Slug Magazine - Slamdance Film Review: My Name Is Faith
Real Screen - Hot Docs 2012: Grenier shows "Faith" in non-fiction