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Documentaries & Non-Fiction Series

Kidnapped for Christ: Director Kate Logan On Her Showtime Documentary [Exclusive INTERVIEW + Preview] 


Warning: Spoilers Ahead

This is an important documentary. If you know a child or a teenager who has been sent to military school or fat camp or any sort of residential educational program, you should be concerned. These establishments aren’t regulated by the federal government so there is little to no oversight and often not even the child’s parents know what’s going on. These programs are big business as well; they make billions of dollars in profits every year. But what exactly are these “schools” teaching and why are the success rates for these programs so low? Why do many of the people who come out of these programs call themselves “survivors?”

Synopsis, from Showtime:

Kidnapped for Christ is a powerful, award-winning documentary that chronicles the shocking truth behind Escuela Caribe, a controversial Christian behavior modification program in the Dominican Republic for “troubled” U.S. teenagers. Initially hoping to document the positive effects a boarding school like this could have on struggling youth, evangelical filmmaker Kate Logan is granted unprecedented access and allowed to live on campus for the summer. Once there, Logan’s eyes are opened to the truth beneath the sunny façade of this remote reform school—kids being taken by force in the middle of the night, rumors of physical abuse, and staff imposing arbitrary and degrading punishments on the young students—and encounters students who change her life.

In the 85-minute documentary, Logan meets David, a 17-year-old honor student from Colorado, sent to the program shortly after coming out to his parents; Beth, a 15-year-old from Michigan suffering from debilitating panic attacks; and Tai, a 16-year-old Haitian-American girl from Boston experimenting with drugs to cope with childhood trauma. With mounting evidence that this so-called “therapeutic boarding school” is no more than a crude brainwashing camp, Logan is determined to help at least one student escape. The struggles she faces to secure the child’s freedom reveal just how far Escuela Caribe will go to prevent their students from leaving, becoming a journey that tests Logan’s faith in ways she could never imagine.

Photo Credit: Alan Natale/SHOWTIME
Photo Credit: Alan Natale/SHOWTIME

TV Goodness spoke to director Kate Logan by email. We discussed how she and the producers came up with the title of the film, when she realized what was really going on at Escuela Caribe and which stories she had to leave on the cutting room floor.

TV GOODNESS: Kidnapped for Christ is such a provocative title. How did you come up with it?

Kate Logan: “We had several working titles before I came up with Kidnapped For Christ, but none of them really hit the nail on the head the way that title did. I remember always thinking that the way these students were taken in the middle of the night, without warning or explanation, was basically a kidnapping – just legal. I debated for a while if I wanted to go with a title that provocative and potentially offensive, and the thing that make us finally decide to stick with the title was when we discussed it with David, the main subject of the film. We were shooting a follow-up interview with him and were discussing the potential titles in the car, and he stopped us and said, ‘Guys, that’s literally what happened to me. I was kidnapped in the name of Christ.’ So there it was, then we knew we had our title.”

TV GOODNESS: In the film, you talked about your desire to tell the truth of this story. When did it become clear what was really going on?

Kate: “Within the first few days I had already started to see things that I was uncomfortable with. The first morning I was there I saw a girl scrubbing the steps outside the school yard and when she rested her knees on the ground a staff member came and told her that she was not allowed to take a knee. This seemed unnecessarily cruel and potentially harmful physically. Then I heard about how they gave students ‘swats’ on the ass with a paddle as a punishment and put them in isolation rooms with only a bucket to use as the restroom. Both of these punishments, to me, were obviously abusive and harmful. I didn’t hear about these punishments from the students either, it was the staff who told me about them – which was even scarier. They didn’t even realize how harmful these practices were. As time when on I spoke with several alumni, who had far worse stories of physical and psychological abuse and many of their abusers were still working at the school.”

TV GOODNESS: I’m trying not to sit in judgment of David’s parents, but it’s really difficult after seeing this film. Do you think they were willfully ignorant about what was happening? I know you can’t speak for them, but do you have any thoughts on what might have been going through their minds at the time?

Kate: “I think it’s important to note how incredibly manipulative the administrators of the school were. They would say anything to get a parent to send their kid there and to keep them there as long as possible. I believe that, for whatever reason, David’s parents thought this would be good for him. That belief was likely out of ignorance, not malicious intent. The school was great at getting parents to trust them and they swindled countless families out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don’t think many parents really knew what was going on there or how their children were being treated. Sure they knew it was a tough school with militaristic discipline methods, but few knew how sadistic some of the staff members were and how totally unchecked their entire program was.”

TV GOODNESS: Were you able to talk to any of the other student’s parents during or after you made the film? If so, what were their thoughts?

Kate: “Yes, I was able to speak with a few parents while we were filming. They were at Escuela Caribe for their childrens’ graduation from the high school portion of the program, [but] none of those students actually got to go home with their parents after graduation. The parents I spoke with had decided to send their kids to the program because they were worried about their future for various reasons. One set of parents sent their son to the program because he was failing out of school due to severe depression, another sent their daughter away because she had become involved with drugs. In both cases I could sympathize with the parents. They were trying their best to help their kids to be healthy and happy, however they were, in my opinion, conned into sending their kids to a program that did far more harm than good. Yes, they should have researched the program more. Yes, they are absolutely culpable for making the decision to send their kids away to an abusive program. However, I don’t think most parents had any intention of harming their children by sending them to Escuela Caribe. I’ve spoken with a few parents who, after the fact, deeply regretted ever sending their kids to [that school.]”

TV GOODNESS: Is there anything you wanted to include in the film that you weren’t able to? If so, why not?

Kate: “There were so many stories left untold because we didn’t have time in the film or enough footage to fully explain what happened. One thing I wish we could have included was the more rough physical abuse that many of the students suffered behind closed doors. The school staff would not allow us to film things like swats or students being sent to the ‘quiet room.’ We were also aware that students were often beaten up for ‘being defiant,’ however staff wouldn’t do this in front of us. One staff member even blogged about throwing a student to the ground for talking back to him. Unfortunately he would not talk about this on camera. I wish we could have captured more of that stuff, because, honestly, the school was much worse than the film shows.”

TV GOODNESS: At the end of the film you say you’re not sure you want to call yourself a Christian anymore. How did making this film change your faith?

Kate: “Going in to making this film, I was a very devout evangelical Christian. Part of being an evangelical is believing that God speaks to you personally. I prayed on a daily basis and expected to receive guidance from God in all areas of my life. During my time at Escuela Caribe I had many conversations with staff members where they described how God called them to work [there]. Most of these staff members were not unlike myself at the time. They were young, went to Christian colleges and genuinely wanted to help troubled kids. I could easily see myself being a staff member there instead of a filmmaker exposing them. That scared me. I thought to myself, ‘How is it that I feel God called me to make this film and to expose this abuse, and they think God called them to work here and perpetrate abuse?’ These doubts nagged for years after filming and I could never pray again the way I used to. Now I consider myself an agnostic because I never again want to proclaim to know the absolute truth about things no one can prove, it’s just too dangerous. I’ve seen the damage that can do.”

TV GOODNESS: How have audiences been responding to the film?

Kate: “The most common thing I hear from audience members is that it made them angry, and it should. I makes me angry that these programs are still open and enrolling teens and very few people in our government [have made] any meaningful efforts to monitor or regulate treatment programs for youth. To some people’s surprise, we’ve also had a great response from churches who want to help right this wrong done in the name of Jesus.”

TV GOODNESS: If people only take one thing away from this film, what do you want it to be?

Kate: “Number one, I want people to take 5 minutes and go here and write their representatives, asking them to pass legislation that would regulate residential programs for teens. The more people tell their lawmakers that they care about this issue, the more likely it is for change to actually happen. I also hope that this film can bring healing and recognition to those who have been harmed by these programs. On a much deeper level, I want people to take away this: all humans are capable of doing horrible things if an authority figure tells them to or if everyone else is doing it. This is how untold numbers of tragedies have happened, how cults form, how mass murder is allowed to continue. Escuela Caribe was far from a mass tragedy, but the principle was the same – people are capable of doing great evil in the name of doing good. Our only defense against this is to be aware of the potential for evil in all of us.”

Edited for space and content.

Kidnapped for Christ premieres Thursday, July 10th at 7:30/6:30c on Showtime.


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