Kate Logan’s investigative documentary, “Kidnapped for Christ,” which aired July 10 on Showtime, was originally meant to be an evenhanded examination of Escuela Caribe, a Christian boarding school for troubled teens in the Dominican Republic. However, when she captures institutional abuses on camera, she was compelled to take action. As a filmmaker, she got involved in the personal struggle of David, a 17-year-old gay teen whose parents sent him to Escuela Caribe to “fix” him. Logan carries messages from the gay teen in the hopes of rescuing David and exposing his (and others’) suffering and helplessness at the school.
“Kidnapped for Christ” was executive produced by Fort Lauderdale native Mike C. Manning, who chatted on the phone from Los Angeles about this potent documentary.
How did you get involved in “Kidnapped for Christ”?
The beauty of this film is that it started out as a small passion project by Kate Logan, who wanted to do a short film on the good thing that the school was doing for her Christian college Biola University. It expanded, almost by chance. I came into the film from David, who was a friend of mine in college in Colorado. After I moved to L.A. to pursue acting, David came out to do a follow up interview with Kate. Because of shame; he hadn’t spoken to me before about this, and when he opened up and told me this story, and told me about the film being made, my response was: How can I help? I met Kate and did some small favors, and she eventually brought me on as an executive producer, helping with fundraising—running Kickstarter campaigns to shoot follow up interviews — and doing post-production. I just started a prod company, Chhibber Mann Productions to make films that raise social issues, some scripted, some docs.
Why was this topic so critical for you to make a film about?
Truthfully, I identified with all the individuals who were sent there. In the U.S. today it’s still legal for a parent to sign a contract and send their child away to one of these camps — Christian or not, in the U.S. or not. And in these camps, it’s unregulated by the government. Physical and mental abuse takes place there. I put myself in the shoes of these teens who feel like they have no voice.
What were you like as a teen?
[Laughs]. I’m going to give you a different version of my teenage years than the one my mom would give you. I played hockey, wrestled, and got good grades, but I got into trouble. I would party, and if my parents weren’t so accepting…they wouldn’t have sent me to one of these places, but it’s not inconceivable.
What can you say about watching the experiences these teens suffer in this film?
It does to me what I think it does to a lot of viewers. It pisses me off enough to want to do something about it. We use the film’s website as a call to action for teens to share stories, talk to other teens and warn parents, or contact congress and urge them to reassess the bill to regulate these camps.
Do you think that the abusers were making sincere or possibly effective efforts to modify behavior?
I genuinely think that there were some individuals in the camps who thought they were doing the right thing. Staff members who spend a year there went there with noble intentions. But the conditions of a lot of these camps are not conducive for anyone to live in—especially teens cut off from communication with their friends, family and outside world.
There is a chant in the film, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” That to me sounds very much like--express yourself as you want, not as society wants you to be. It seems almost ironic. Can you discuss this chant?
I assume it’s part of the brainwashing technique—inside the walls of their camp—this is the right way, and you are behaving the wrong way because society has influenced you in negative ways. It just seems fucked up. They are manipulating these kids to think the outside world is negative, and with sin, and only within the camp can you become a decent human being. These kids had to on the outside change their views and agree to all this stuff, and pretend to accept the sins and change—that’s part of the program. They have to let themselves as individuals conform to this camp. And if you pretend long enough, you [start to] believe it’s true. The suicide and depression rate after this psychological abuse have long-term impacts; they experience PTSD.
What did you think about the teens’ responses to the school after they were released?
People deal with traumatic events in different ways. Some talk about them, some don’t. You see three unique individuals handle the situation in three different ways.
What advice would you give to gay teens and/or other students who may find themselves in this situation?
I think the most important thing is for them to share their stories. We’re not trying to villianize the parents, but they need to step up and say these camps are not what they seem. The more folks are educated about these camps, the less parents will send their kids to them. I would tell all teens: Be who you are and never apologize for it. If someone doesn’t accept you for who you are then move on.