Emily Kassie’s important documentary A Girl Named C Premieres at the New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, February 9, 2019!
Here is my interview with Emily:
Nigrin: Your important documentary A Girl Named C addresses one of the most taboo subjects in the United States: child sexual assault, as it documents, with commendable sensitivity, the case of a girl who was raped in her New Jersey elementary school by another student. Please tell us more about your film and what motivated you to make it?
Kassie: In 2015 I received an email request to connect with a family. Their daughter had been assaulted and they wanted to talk to a journalist. I had been reporting on a number of human rights abuses including sexual assault at the time for Huffington Post. I remember my first Skype call with C - I was just totally blown away by her. She was eloquent, open and strong. She was also 12 years old, so I was reasonably nervous. My number one priority was her safety so I got to know C and her family over a year before deciding to move forward with the project.
Her story captivated me, in part because as a survivor of assault myself I recognized so much of my own reactions and processing in C. Though I had covered the subject of sexual abuse internationally, C was the first child I had ever heard articulate what it felt like to lose your power and your sense of self. I felt she needed to be heard and I wanted to help her do that.
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Given the sensitivity of her age and the alleged perpetrator’s age, I also knew I couldn’t provide a balanced journalistic view in a news forum. It was clear a more creative approach was necessary, the story would be hers and the audience would understand her experience, without evidence and possibly with doubt, and that would be ok. We wouldn’t name or focus on the abuser, but rather her experience of the events. It’s not a true crime story and the film does not preoccupy itself with “who-done-it.” The point is, C’s story is the story of most survivors of sexual abuse who can never corroborate what happened to them, who doubt themselves and their own narrative and in that she is an ‘every-girl.’ There is a girl named A, B, D, E etc. in all of our lives.
Nigrin: The New Jersey Film Festival jurors thought the animated sequences kept the film visually interesting. Why did you decide to use animation in your film?
Kassie: I love animation. I’ve used it in a number of my films and projects. It’s a unique way of connecting viewers to a story. It can evoke a totally different set of emotions or activate a distinctive response – not to mention it’s a skill set I am in no way capable of myself and I love working with artists who have this talent to bring an imagined world to life in drawing and movement.
The Studio, a prolific animation studio founded and run by the inimitable Mary Nittolo (who is also an Executive Producer on the film), did stunning work on these sequences. We asked them to take all of C’s drawings, the color palettes of her world – her clothes, her bedroom, her books - and apply them to an animated world in which she could live. That in addition to animating C’s original artwork itself.
It also felt like a creative and safe way to explore some very difficult moments: suicide, sexual contact of children as well as some that couldn’t be captured in footage like C’s inner process of coping with her trauma.
That said, the animation in the film is more than a story technique. It represents imagination, the life of child. We had C explain to us what the world inside her head looked like, when she was waking and when she dreamt and Mary and her team captured it beautifully.
Nigrin: How long did it take to make this film and how did you secure the funding for it?
Kassie: From the time I first spoke with C, it’s been about three years. We mostly accumulated funding from Kickstarter and private donors. It was not an easy topic to get funded especially with C’s age, but we, like so many doc filmmakers before use, scrounged and got it done.
Nigrin: What has been the reaction from audiences to your film so far?
Kassie: So far in our festival run we’ve had very strong reactions. Anger, pain, frustration. Some are inspired, some defeated. Many want to know why the incidence of sexual abuse among children is so astronomically high, which is a hard question to answer. My general response is that we have built our societies to develop mechanisms against our worst instincts as humans. In some ways we’ve been successful. However, when it comes to the protection of children and girls in particular, those mechanisms are inadequate to say the least. Early sex and consent education must certainly be at the forefront of addressing the problem, as is eliminating the taboo.
I think a lot of survivors relate to her journey and we’ve had many attend the screenings and relay that they saw themselves in C and that means everything to us.
Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to our readers?
Kassie: I think most enjoyable part of making this film was watching C and her three extremely precocious sisters play together. They’re all uniquely creative and brilliant and have created a net for one another. They spend their days reading Jane Austin and teaching themselves foreign languages and their moments together were special to witness. They live in a little room with two sets of bunkbeds and share their secrets after lights are out.
The magic of being a kid is present in this film as much as the trauma of C’s assault is. It’s how the two interact that gives us real insight into the power of pain and resilience.
Two excellent short films that focus on women will precede A Girl Named C. Here is more info on this screening:
Game Changer – Sam Shapiro (Watchung, New Jersey) In this musically-driven tale, a young woman has just discovered that she is pregnant. While anxiously waiting for her husband to come home from work so she can tell him the news, she imagines the future: good, bad, and ugly. 2018; 9 min.
Jo – Justine Williams (New York, New York) Set in 1980s Woodstock, Jo follows a 13-year-old girl as she clashes with her rabbi and her mom over her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. On the heels of her dad's death and with puberty coming on quick, nothing about this traditional rite of passage feels right to Jo. An unexpected encounter with a local girl in the woods, gives Jo a new outlook, and sends her Bat Mitzvah party into an unorthodox direction. 2018; 15 min.
A Girl Named C – Emily Kassie(New York, New York) This documentary addresses one of the most taboo subjects in the United States: child sexual assault, as it documents, with commendable sensitivity, the case of a girl who was raped in her New Jersey elementary school by another 11-year-old student. After being denied justice and resolution, C is determined to share her story. The film uses C's drawings and poetry to illustrate and animate her inner life, and what it means for a child to survive such trauma. 2018; 70 min.
Saturday, February 9 2019 at 7PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University,
71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey
$12=General; $10=Students+Seniors; $9=Rutgers Film Co-op Friends
Information: (848) 932-8482; www.njfilmfest.com