Domestic violence and the battle for custody.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Rachel Meyrick
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
The film really began as a short film about an 86-year-old woman in Oklahoma called Charlotta, who escaped a violent husband after 62 years of marriage. I had edited a promo for a group called Brave Woman during which Charlotta spoke of her harrowing experiences and ultimate escape. Charlotta Harrison is an inspiring survivor who now advocates for domestic violence victims. After spewing her life story to me, she took me to the local shelter in Claremore. It was here that I was told that mentioning your own abuse in a custody case with your abuser often goes against you, and that it could be detrimental to your case. I just could not believe this was correct, but 6 years on I realize it is. I didn’t start out to make this film, but could not stop searching for answers. I hope this film comes some of the way to helping others understand this contradictory situation that victims find themselves in.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
You should watch this film if you are a human. It is about a very hidden and unbelievable issue that women and kids leaving domestic violence find themselves in. It is very typical, having spoken to many of these moms, that you think your case is unique in its ridiculousness, but no, this is happening all over America to women from every socio-economic background. Once the children have been placed with the abuser these moms go searching online and discover there are thousands that this has happened to. People need to watch this film as it shows how our most vulnerable are being let down by a systemic failure of the court system. Women's rights are non existent in this realm and in this Trump era, we need to highlight injustice and speak out when women and children are victimized.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The story follows the personal stories of several women who escape abuse. Many others recant how they felt about leaving or staying and the reasons to do each. These stories are deeply personal but the same thing happens the world over. We can all relate to the children of these abusive parents who just want a safe, non violent home. The mothers are often not believed but you cannot ignore the voices of the grown children who have lived through this. This film resonates the world over, I know that in the UK, where I live, the situation and statistics are almost the same.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
I started making the film 6 years ago. The film evolved with my understanding of why abused mothers are being treated so badly in the courts. I tried my best to include the main issues that I came across but this is such a complex problem that explaining how this happens is not simple. Each person I came across, led me to another issue, another contributor. The film tackles many contentious issues including child sexual abuse, paid court experts, family court vs criminal court vs domestic violence court, the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, the Safe Child Act and much more.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The feedback has been incredibly encouraging. The support from people who have been through the court system is overwhelming. Many protective parents want and need this film to expose what is going on. They all want to create screenings in local areas - I think part of this is to show to family and friends that they are not unhinged; they are working in an unhinged and broken family court system that does not put the safety of the child at the heart of each case.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Before I made this film I had a very tenuous understanding of why women stay with violent partners. I now know you have the choice to stay, where you can keep some form of control over your abuser and keep your children safe or leave and risk losing them altogether, often to the abuser in the family court and then you are left with nothing. It is no choice at all. These women are survivors and they are some of the bravest humans I have met. This film is long overdue and exposing the injustices that I have seen is welcome news to everyone involved within ‘the movement’.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I would like the film to be seen by as many people as possible. The issue desperately needs expose and I think wearemovingstories can help with this.
The young people who have survived domestic violence and then being placed with their abusive parent, are aged out and able to speak out for themselves. As you can imagine, this is a hard thing to do but they are incredible advocates for children that are still going through this. I would like this film to reach children and parents who think they are alone in their experiences. I would also like to reach those families that think they are in a unique situation where they have lost out through the family courts and give them hope that one day this can be changed.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I would like journalists to watch this film and take the stories and run with them. This can’t work by word of mouth alone - it needs and deserves full support and exposure.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I want people to get angry. To question their views on women that stay in domestic violence situations. If she leaves, not only does the possibility of her being murdered by her ex go up drastically, she risks losing her children to the abuser if he decides to pursue custody. She can also be accused of ‘failure to protect’ if she stays too long. It’s a no win situation and this needs to change. I want people to speak out about abuse and I want people to share what they learn from this film with everyone they know.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Why do judges favor the abusive father over a protective mother in a child custody cases?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I took on all the roles in this film: camera, sound, producer, director, editor as there was no funding. I managed to raise enough money through crowdfunding to pay for my flights and accommodation to the US from the UK. I am now working on new and very exciting new documentary film here in the UK, as editor.
Interview: October 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
What doesn’t kill me
Domestic violence and the battle for custody
Length: 81 mins
Director: Rachel Meyrick
Producer: Rachel Meyrick
Writer: Rachel Meyrick
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): This film has distribution with Women Make Movies
Social media handles:
Distributor: WOMEN MAKE MOVIES | What Doesn’t Kill Me Domestic Violence and the Battle for Custody