Deborah Oppenheimer Documentary Film Interviews Foster HBO Mark Jonathan Harris Participant Media

Deborah Oppenheimer & Mark Jonathan Harris Explore Trauma & Resilience of Foster Children in Their Documentary Film “Foster”

Added on Might 6, 2019
 Deborah Oppenheimer , documentary , Foster , HBO , Mark Jonathan Harris , Participant Media

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” ― Nelson Mandela

The Los Angeles County Department Of Children & Family Providers manages the most important foster care system in the nation. The sheer numbers of youngsters in the foster care system mixed with the viewers’s hunger for reality compelled Oscar-winning filmmakers, Deborah Oppenheimer and Mark Jonathan Harris, to supply an HBO documentary on the topic. They shared their views with Artistic Screenwriting Magazine.

“I did volunteer work at a local public school and met a six-year-old boy who was very positive, happy and a leader in his class,” stated Oppenheimer. When she spoke together with his instructor, she discovered that he was dwelling in an orphanage in Los Angeles. This sparked her curiosity in the foster care system. “I didn’t realize that orphanages still existed. I was inspired by his attitude and resolved to work with him.”

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Deborah Oppenheimer. Photograph by Mitchell Haaseth

Mark’s interest in the foster care system stems from his longtime concentrate on issues of social justice as they relate to youngsters. “I wrote five young adult books which dealt with traumatic events that were caused by their parents,” he stated. Harris references his film Into The Arms Of Strangers: Stories Of The Kindertransport (2000) which examined youngsters in conflict dropping each household and home. Foster is a pure extension. “Children are wrenched from their families through no fault of their own.”

In conceptualizing Foster, Oppenheimer and Harris needed to explore the foster care system in Los Angeles over an extended interval of time. Los Angeles has the most important baby welfare system in the nation which poses its unique set of challenges. Provided that the documentary filmmakers are each based mostly in Los Angeles, they set to work on their house turf.  The size of foster care activity allowed them to maximize their artistic decisions. Analyzing the foster care system in one metropolis didn’t limit a wider audience attraction.

“The stories we picked [for the documentary] are universal and could have happened anywhere,” provides Harris.

Choosing A Documentary Type

Not all documentaries share the same perspective and narrative type. “We wanted Foster to be an observational film as much as possible,” asserted Harris. “We wanted to immerse you in the world of the foster care system.”

Their artistic selections have been strategic in terms of the tales they needed to inform and the documentary format. It wasn’t a matter of simply grabbing a digital camera and filming as much footage because the might.

“We spent a few years doing research to understand the foster care system and to decide on the stories we wanted to tell with the main characters. Casting is essential. It took us a long time to find the right central characters. Much of the connection between the characters and their stories developed in the editing process to weave these five stories together,” continued Mark.

Despite some of the narrative unfolding through the filming and modifying process, Deborah and Mark did write an preliminary remedy to type the inspiration of Foster, and in addition to safe funding from buyers. “Once you find the characters, their lives are unpredictable. Their stories unfold in a way we couldn’t imagine,” provides Harris.

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Mark Jonathan Harris

Harris elaborates on the primary differences between writing a daily function movie and a documentary. “In narrative form, films you have complete control over the beginning, middle, and end. In documentary films, you imagine a narrative arc that you may not have total control over. You have to keep writing the film as you’re making it because reality is often so different and hopefully more interesting.”

Creating The Challenge

The filmmakers spent several years researching their documentary. This represented the longest half of the pre-production course of. The filming, which was achieved in steady real-time, also took a couple of years. The post-production was additionally time-consuming. The final levels of storytelling are sometimes found in the modifying bay.

The levels were not all the time clearly outlined. “We had to follow the story. There were story holes we needed to address so we had to film additional segments. We had to come to a satisfying ending that indicated the direction in which the story was going. We knew Foster only represented a slice of their lives,” stated Mark.

Deborah added that they didn’t begin filming till they raised their finance. Foster isn’t the sort of documentary that might be filmed in levels. So much of it relied on case studies, courtroom instances, and different procedural parts.

Choosing The Topics

Once they selected a five-story interweaving format, the filmmaking duo began recruiting subjects to trace. “We knew we wanted to show the earliest point at which a child can enter the system. This includes a newborn baby with drugs in their system. We liaised with the Children And Family Services Hotline who referred potential subjects such as first time young couples struggling with their first baby,” recollects Deborah.

Harris and Oppenheimer have been in a lucky place enabling them to attend the primary courtroom listening to which is remitted to occur inside 72 hours of delivery. Oppenheimer and Harris navigated the kid protection system with insights from social staff, lawyer, and other advocates, the movie presents a sensible, but hopeful perspective on a group that wants society’s help.

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Courtesy of HBO

Aside from monitoring newborns, Oppenheimer chose to explore youngsters “aging out of the foster care system and the challenges it brings such as education, economic, employment, nutrition, and housing.” These issues are exacerbated by typical adolescent behaviors which lead such youngsters into the Juvenile Justice system. Regardless of the seemingly insurmountable legal roadblocks, a personality in the movie needed to point out they “could go from zero to hero.”

Mark and Deborah also felt a duty to point out an example of a foster dad or mum grappling with the system.

A non-profit group also brought another character, Jessica to their attention. The thought of a teen mom who skilled all the system was engaging to them because she needed to rebuild a dysfunctional foster system from within.

There’s more to choosing subjects than their digital camera readiness. “First you have to gain their trust so you can tell their stories in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to other people,” mused Harris. “Their stories should also be therapeutic to them. The audience is a sympathetic witness to what they’re going through. We did not want to be damaging. It’s sometimes difficult to draw the line between realism and exploitation.”

Foster isn’t all bitter and gloomy faces. The filmmakers relished the prospect to create each tender and laugh-out-loud moments, particularly in some courtroom scenes. It releases pressure and creates a sense of authenticity and hope.

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Courtesy of HBO

What The Documentary Filmmakers Discovered

One of the shocks of the foster care system for Harris and Oppenheimer was the staggering complexity of the system.

Additionally they realized the long-lasting impression of trauma on foster youngsters in addition to their resilience. “We tend to write off foster kids. There are so many negative stereotypes about social workers, the judges, and a broken system. On the contrary, we found that people were very dedicated despite their stretched resources,” stated Harris

Oppenheimer was also struck “by the lack of underpinning in some of these kids’ lives. They have challenges that most people in life will never face. They need somewhere to turn and people they can depend on.”

Documentaries typically serve to inform, educate and create consciousness in most of the people. We also needed to generate “greater compassion, greater willingness to view this population as individuals and, understand the potential of foster kids,” said Deborah.

Additionally they needed to spur group engagement. The group can tackle many types. Adults don’t essentially have to take in a toddler if they will’t sustain the required care. They will also mentor, assist with resume-building life expertise or lend a sympathetic ear.

“The problems of foster care aren’t simply the result of poor parenting. They’re the result of larger social issues such as poverty, lack of education and opportunity, and racism. Foster care was always meant to be a temporary fix for families in crisis. We need to do more to assist struggling families and take a more preventative approach to intervene before there’s a crisis rather than act as a triage,” declared Mark.

Business Potential Of Documentary Films

Documentary films are sometimes restricted to the film pageant circuit or poorly-funded tv channels.

Despite their smaller budgets and advertising, documentaries can flourish financially. The pair acknowledge that it’s a great time for documentaries to seek out an viewers. “There are so many TV and streaming platforms to watch them. People have an appetite for reality amidst the flood of action films cramming our cinema screens,” stated Harris.

Luckily, this represents a viable economic model to make documentaries. Their sale prices have risen dramatically. “So long as people have a hunger for reality to see the truth. Documentaries provide access to worlds that audiences don’t otherwise have access to,” adds Harris.

“The craft of documentary filmmaking has become more sophisticated and employs all kinds of narrative techniques to keep the audience engaged. This film speaks to educators, legislators, families, and anyone who has any contact with the foster care system regardless of age, gender, or class.”

In phrases of knowledge for emerging documentary filmmakers, Mark proclaims, “persistence, passion, commitment, and patience” is vital. “That is what keeps you going once you develop a venture over 4 years.“

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