"Paradise Recovered," according to its website, addresses hard questions about faith, tolerance and spiritual abuse. What drew you to this subject matter?
Mainly, my own experience. Besides my growing up experience with a high-demand church, the animosity that exists between people who embrace faith and people who choose not to embrace faith is incredible. News organizations will often put an ultra-conservative Christian and a hardcore atheist together on a split screen and have them scream at each other to drive ratings. Instead of listening to each other and hearing one another, religion in the public square has turned into a free-for-all. I have often said that it is time that we turn down the outrage and cherish the similarities and embrace the diversity. We all have something that we bring to the table, and most of us share the same goals
Spiritual abuse is something that both atheists and people of faith regardless of the tradition can look at and decide is wrong. We can all stand together to point out the mind control tactics and unscrupulous fundraising techniques while giving people the right to practice their faith or to not practice faith as they wish.
Obtaining funding for any indie project is challenging, but in this case you also had challenging subject matter. Was it a challenge to find funding for the project?
We knew that we had a bit of money to get us started, but the challenge for me was to not have to seek any additional funding. By cutting costs and using as many local small businesses as possible, we were able to keep our costs incredibly low. Part of this means that we do our own PR, we write our own press releases, Storme edited some, I altered wardrobe, the actors did their own makeup, our first AC did grip, our gaffer drove a truck…everyone did everything. And everyone was paid. Not their normal rates, but they were paid. And they expect to share in the profits of the venture.
We did use Kickstarter, and our fans helped us raise $8,000, and we did receive $6,000 from an anonymous source. And a few of the producers kicked in some money here and there for incidentals. But the money that my husband, Ron Becker, and I decided to front for the project has nearly been enough. And considering that it was under $100,000, that is no small feat for a full-length narrative feature film.
Most people who are in the industry who watch our film widen their eyes when they hear our budget. One director friend of ours exclaimed, “How did you…no, wait. I don’t want to know how you did that.” In the end, the only debt we have is to ourselves, which affords the team a great deal of patience as we are not trying to placate investors. And as all of our team and vendors can attest, our bills are paid.
You had your world premiere (I believe) at Heartland Film Festival...no shabby achievement. What do you think made this a "Heartland" film?
In 2009, Storme, Ron and I attended the Heartland Gala and awards ceremony. It was a lovely evening. At one point, Storme leaned into me and said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get Paradise screened at Heartland…and you could go up on stage and talk to the audience about cults?” To be at Heartland Film Festival and to have it as our World Premiere was an incredible honor. We had the opportunity to meet some incredible independent filmmakers who enjoyed our film and whose work we have enjoyed for many years. It was like being Cinderella at the ball.
We had a number of spiritual abuse survivors come up and tell us how much the film meant to them. They felt like they had a voice. The film doesn’t bash faith; what it does is help people on the outside understand the demands of such an organization. These demands seem completely normative to those on the inside. While the horror stories that we heard so often were very poignant and compelling, I tried to keep the script as accessible to people as possible. And I wanted the message to be one of hope; life does indeed go on after such an experience, and often our best years are yet to come.
Because our team shot a beautiful film with amazing acting talent that told ultimately a love story, I believe Heartland chose our film as an official selection. Heartland is committed to films that engage and inspire audiences, and we are delighted that they believed that our film was of that caliber.
How important is the film festival circuit?
For our little film, it is incredibly significant. We were also pleased to be selected by Austin Film Festival, and we were delighted by the turnout and support in Austin as well. AFF champions the work of writers, and so to be chosen as an official selection was incredibly rewarding and touching for me. Additionally, we were selected to screen in Los Angeles as a part of LA Talk Radio’s Film Courage Interactive Series, and that was also a big honor to be noticed by other scrappy filmmakers. We also met our producers’ representative, Circus Road Films, at Heartland Film Festival, as well as some other great filmmakers that we’d love to collaborate with for future projects.
The circuit gets Paradise Recovered in front of audiences, and we’ve enjoyed some nice ones. It also drives attention to the topic of spiritual abuse. You should see the groups of people in the hallway and out in the parking lots after the film discussing their reaction to the film. Overall, we’ve enjoyed very positive responses.
What's going on with the film these days? As you know, we'd touched base during the festival and were going to interview...but, well, life gets in the way.
Life DOES get in the way…it has that pesky habit. We’re waiting to hear from some additional festivals, and our producers’ rep is pitching the film to some distributors, so we are seeking distribution while organizing a Plan B for self-distribution if necessary.
You were recently (okay, today!) awarded the "Hoosier Award" from the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Surprised? I thought your e-mail response to me was amazingly lacking in ego...which, I also think is part of what makes your film work so beautifully. It allows the characters to exist "as is" and work through their issues.
Thank you, Richard. To be honored as someone who has made a significant contribution to film is nothing short of breathtaking. I am pleased to represent the arts in Indiana as our team continues to take the film around the country. Indiana is a special place to me, and to be given the Hoosier award from the esteemed members of the IFJA (whose criticism I highly respect) is truly fantastic. I am very, very grateful.