LOS ANGELES — Entertainment can be a very powerful way to make people aware of important social issues. And one issue that hasn’t been getting enough publicity is the effects of divorce on children. When splitting parents put their personal conflict ahead of the well being of their children, it can have very damaging effects on the children’s behavior and psychological development — effects that can last for many years.
Now, American movie director Shelli Ryan has decided to tackle this issue in her new suspense film. Jake’s Closet, which is receiving a U.S.-wide DVD release, tells the story of Jake (played by seven-year-old Anthony DeMarco), a young boy dealing with his parents’ breakup. As Jake experiences his family life falling apart, he is also haunted by a mysterious presence lurking in his bedroom closet.
The independent film also stars Sean Bridgers, of HBO’s Deadwood, as well as CSI: Miami‘s Brooke Bloom.
Ryan, who made the film with the help of a Panasonic Digital Filmmakers Grant, studied acting and screenwriting at the American Film Institute. “With so many marriages ending in divorce,” Ryan says, “there needs to be a national discussion about the effects of divorce on children, along with the appropriate behaviors from parents and everyone involved in family courts. Often in a divorce, the children get lost in the battle that everyone claims is being fought on their behalf.”
DivorceMagazine.com CEO and publisher Dan Couvrette recently spoke with Ryan about Jake’s Closet.
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Dan Couvrette: Why did you make this film?
Shelli Ryan: My goal as a filmmaker for the last ten years has been to find subject matter that was in important need of public examination. Movies have the power to not only entertain but also bring to light relevant issues affecting our society. I stumbled upon an issue that needed urgent examination a few years ago, when I watched a little boy live through his parents’ divorce. This was the inspiration for the film Jake’s Closet. A film I came to live and breathe every hour of my life for the past three years.
DC: What did you observe with this boy? Did he talk to you about what he was feeling?
SR: That little boy said nothing of his experience to me. For months, I heard his mother speak to him, for him, through him. His father’s rebuttals grew furious, frustrated and frightened with every visit. “What’s best for the boy” was the weapon of choice the parents were using against the other. Still, the little boy said nothing. He learned not to speak of the other parent or express his love. The latter being the most tragic. He learned not to speak. He had no voice.
DC: How did you go about researching the subject?
SR: With this film, I set out to give a voice to his experience along with all the children who go through these situations, every year. Knowing I would set the entire film through the eyes of a little boy coping through a volatile divorce, I interviewed children of divorce, studied childhood grief, and catalogued many of the common behaviors that occur during the divorce process, both from parents and children.
DC: In what way do you hope your movie will affect viewers?
SR: My hope is that all parents, teachers, lawyers and everyone connected to the family law process will have the chance to watch the film and examine more closely the behaviors, mistakes, and long-term effects of the divorce process. During my research for the film, I discovered a valuable truth; no matter how horrible or amicable a divorce, it becomes a child’s defining experience and cornerstone of their adult identity. It seems unavoidable.
DC: When will Jake’s Closet be released?
SR: The DVD of Jake’s Closet comes out on October 28th, 2008, nationwide in video stores and select retail outlets.. Along with the film, we have included a brief documentary about parenting through divorce with [DivorceMagazine.com contributor] Dr. Jayne Major. You can find this “extra” in the bonus features section, for parents who want to create a healthy transition for their family.
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