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FFT Special

ReMoved: An Interview with the Filmmakers
by Kim Phagan-Hansel

In 2014, when ReMoved rolled out across social media, watchers were riveted to computer screens across the country. In just 10 minutes, filmmakers Nathanael and Christina Matanik enveloped watchers into the life of a child in foster care. After much fanfare and several short film awards, the couple took their next project, part two of ReMoved to crowdfunding. With the idea of funding the creation of part two of Zoe’s story, they successfully secured funding from the social media firestorm that had brought the film’s first success. Now, the Mataniks along with a team of producers and actors have finished up the follow up and ReMoved 2 provides an equally gripping picture into the lives of children in foster care. We caught up with the Mataniks at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit in Tennessee to discuss their film creation, the foster care system and the interest these films have created on a broad scale. Here’s Christina Matanik’s take on the film . . .

Provide a little background on what has brought you to the point of creating ReMoved.
It was actually our FFA who encouraged us to create ReMoved part 2. We decided to move forward with the project because we had received such an overwhelming amount of feedback from ReMoved that it made us believe there was an audience for more content. Our crowd-funding campaign was successful, and so with the budget there, we created ReMoved part 2, entitled Remember My Story.

What prompted you to create ReMoved 2?
Really it was the feedback from our audience — from viewers worldwide. And most importantly, from the foster youth themselves. We really hope this film is seen as honoring to them and as a tribute to their strength, to their resiliency, and to their potential to choose a different life.

Why do you think there was such a strong response to the first film?
We made ReMoved because we hadn’t seen anything like it. Always in media, films and stories dealt with children’s behavior — or the sacrifices/challenges of adults caring for the children. We had never seen anything that looked through the child’s perspective. It was something lacking in the curriculum/content available, and I think it filled a void that had been waiting for quite some time.

I know the first ReMoved was created somewhat impromptu, how was the creation of Removed 2 different?
Well there was the pressure — to make something compelling, to live up to expectations. Originally we thought it would be easier with a budget, but certain unexpected time-constraints related to the successful Kickstarter funding made it quite a wild ride. There was lots more research needing to be done, assembling cast/crew, dealing with bank accounts and legal filings — we’ve learned a lot along the way.

What were you really hoping to accomplish with Zoe’s story in the second film?
We wanted to explore more of the nuances of what it’s like for a child in foster care, examine the power of one caring adult in making a difference, and address the topic of breaking the cycle (of abuse, neglect, poverty, etc).

What were some of the challenges you faced in addressing many of the various aspects of foster care that children often experience in care?
One of the biggest challenges was researching the legal system — to actually see and experience how the courts work when deciding the fate of a child in foster care. Because it’s confidential, it was difficult to observe actual court hearings. But (thankfully!) a friend-of-a-friend in a foster care support group referred me to an attorney who took me to court with her one day in Los Angeles, which is one of the largest foster care systems in the nation.

The film is longer than the first one, why the extended length? Was there a certain target length you were hoping for?
I think there was just so much more to cover. Nuance takes time. And actually, we cut out a lot of what we filmed. Our goal was 15-20 minutes in length.

How are you rolling out the release of ReMoved 2? Where can people see it?
We decided to give Remember My Story to agencies and organizations worldwide during the month of May, and allow them to host the initial release of the film in their communities. It was our hope that the film would be a drawing card and a call to action for their communities, and this way it could link people directly with organizations doing the work locally. We know that the two of us (Nathanael and myself) cannot change foster care on our own, but if we can inspire others to be part of it, together we all as a human community can accomplish much.

You can watch the film online at www.removedfilm.com.

How are you hoping these two films will be used within the foster care community?
There are so many passionate advocates around our country who are using the films to recruit, to train, to raise awareness, to educate, to inform decision making. I hope this continues to spread — that more individuals and agencies make use of the films to bring loving, caring adults into the lives of these children and their families, and to help curb the alarming rates of child abuse and neglect in our nation.

I also hope the films continue to spread and reach foster youth and alum. You wouldn’t believe the number of kids (and adults!) who watch ReMoved and resonate with it, who feel for the very first time in their lives that they aren’t alone, that finally someone understands them, that maybe there’s hope for their future and maybe they could heal, tat they don’t have to keep their past a secret, that they could make a difference for others.

I only know this is how they feel because we receive so many emails from foster alum and current foster youth. And this is the resounding cry we hear. And it’s a privilege but it’s also tragic that so many people have to go through this mess of brokenness, abuse, neglect and trauma. But it’s not hopeless. And I hope these films remind people of that truth.

Also I hope foster parents, social workers, judges, birth parents and educators see the films and make use of them, that they help each of those passionate individuals to advocate for their children and to better understand the children in their care.

How has the creation of these two films impacted your lives and work?
Well, what started as a one-week project that we entered into a film festival has now become our primary focus professionally. We’ve been working on Remember My Story full time for almost a year now. Through the process, we’ve become very educated on the topic of foster care.

Ironically enough, we got a call about a little boy who needed a family a week into our crowd-funding campaign. But we couldn’t take him because running the campaign was literally around-the-clock work, and our financial livelihood depended on it being successful. But it was incredibly ironic that we were trying to raise money to make a film raising awareness about and helping kids in foster care, yet we ourselves were unable to take this child into our home.

What’s more important? The message and inspiring others to be involved in making a difference with kids in their communities, or us making the world of difference for this one child?  

It was a very hard decision.

The original film was inspired by your foster parent licensing process, are you currently fostering?
Yes! The campaign finished successfully on October 16, then we created the story and filmed the entire thing by the last day of 2014. The owners of our home we had rented from for four years decided to sell, so right after the filming was done, we packed up and moved. It was a whirlwind three months. But we settled into our new place, finished the home inspection, and welcomed the sweetest little 2-year-old into our family at the end of February.

What has your foster parenting experience been like so far?
Fantastic! We quote ReMoved to ourselves when we need encouragement . . . hah! It’s very interesting fostering having done so much research on the topic and knowing the statistics/big picture so well. But of course there’s the own personal emotions that come with it. We’ve been really impressed with the social workers we’ve had so far, and also with how they’re making sure the little girl in our care doesn’t slip through the cracks of this system.

How has becoming a foster parent changed or impacted your work to portray foster care in the films?
Well the film was already completed before we actually had ever fostered. But really it makes me admire every single person who chooses to get involved whether paid or (especially!) volunteered — it is a tough field!

Will there be a Removed 3?
Hah! Not sure yet . . . probably depends on how part 2 is received.

Will you be doing additional films around foster care themes? If so, what are the projects?
We are in early pre-production stages on a documentary film that is a true story about a now-successful Christian song writer who experienced horrible abuse both before and during foster care as a child, but has found forgiveness, hope and healing through Jesus. It is his journey that the film will focus on. The film is called Closure. 

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