Among the titles recently announced for the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival, Kidnapped For Christ is the one I’m most anxious to see. It’s a documentary about an Evangelical Christian school in the Dominican Republic where gay teens are sent to be reformed through behavior modification programming. That’s not anything we haven’t heard of before, and such places were even played for comedy in the ’90s indie flick But I’m a Cheerleader. The thing about that movie, though, is that it seems dated. Apparently not, at least as far as attempts to “cure” homosexuality are concerned. Kidnapped For Christ reminds me of Jesus Camp, the idea of religious brainwashing being a main theme, yet in this film the kids are older and more consciously forced against their will. The place in Jesus Camp isn’t necessarily bad (though many viewers see it that way), but the school in this new doc definitely is.
That makes it all the more incredible that the makers of Kidnapped For Christ were allowed access to film inside Escuela Caribe and interview the students about why they’re there (not all are gay but just “troubled”) and what they’re being put through. Also unlike Jesus Camp, there is a clear agenda with this production and its depiction of the school as a human rights problem. The story is that director Kate Logan was herself an Evangelical missionary and hadn’t initially intended to make a film against the school and its practices. I’m told she actually meant to make a film about the “positive effects” the school could have on troubled youth. Documentaries are best when they go in directions that were unexpected by the filmmakers, and the fact that Logan changed her mind about her subject and did a 180 along the way makes the project sound immensely compelling. Presumably that aspect will be addressed in the film — or hopefully, anyway, so long as it doesn’t displace the focus and wind up being too much about her.
As we learned a few months ago, Kidnapped For Christ has brought on former NSYNC singer Lance Bass as an executive producer, and he’s become the face of the film through a Kickstarter campaign to get it all finished in time for next month’s fest premiere. He’s also, as the big celebrity name attached to the doc, a draw for some of the pledge incentives, which include signed posters and DVDs, a personal thank you message from him and a dinner with the entire crew that he will also attend. Joining him in the appeal of fame department is fellow executive producer Mike C. Manning, from The Real World: D.C., where his thing on the reality TV series was that he was a devout Christian and also bisexual. Another big name on the doc is Tom DeSanto, producer of X-Men and Transformers movies, including the upcoming Transformers: Age of Extinction.
I can see there being a lot of levels to this doc, and if I can make another comparison going by what it looks like from the trailer, I’m picturing a kind of exciting third act akin to the one in The Cove. There is a hint of a rescue mission to free one of the gay teens we meet at Escuela Caribe who turns 18 during the film. And because he’s therefore an adult, the fact that he’s being held at the school against his will becomes a matter of real international kidnapping as opposed to having to legally put up with what his parents order done to him. Even that might be a concern worth exposing, though, because part of what apparently effected Logan’s reversal was the physical labor and general mistreatment involved, which might just constitute as abuse.
You should know that in supporting the film, you’re not supporting any cause or charity other than helping a movie get made. I say that not because I think there are a lot of you who would be interested in this doc but not in helping underage gay teens but because all the pledge incentives have a tax deductible portion, which makes it sound like part of your contribution goes to a non-profit. Well, it does, but the organization is the International Documentary Association, which is sponsoring the film. And you can actually deduct your entire pledge if you don’t want any of those Lance Bass perks (or any others) with it. If you do want to take action and support the cause, the filmmakers do provide information on how to do so in a congressional manner on the main website for Kidnapped For Christ.
Watch the doc’s trailer above and the campaign video starring Bass and Manning below to see if this is a project you’re interested in seeing. The Kickstarter effort to raise $25k ends on New Year’s Day.