A young evangelical filmmaker is granted unprecedented access inside a controversial Christian behavior modification program for teens, where she discovers shocking secrets and young students that change her life.
When young missionary Kate Logan hears about Escuela Caribe, a small Christian boarding school that bills itself as a rehabilitation center for troubled teens, she sees the perfect opportunity to make a difference. Hoping to document the positive effects a place like this could have on struggling youth, she is allowed to stay and film on campus in the Dominican Republic for a summer. Once there, Kate discovers the shocking truth of what is really going on at this remote reform school. She hears stories of kids being taken by force in the middle of the night, rumors of physical abuse, and witnesses staff imposing arbitrary and degrading punishments on the young students.
During her time there she follows the stories of several students who were sent to Escuela Caribe to be “treated” for various issues. She meets Beth, a 15-year-old from Michigan who suffers panic attacks so debilitating that she had trouble staying in school all day. Instead of professional treatment, Beth is subjected to inappropriate and often painful punishments, including spankings and being confined to an isolation room. Tai, a 16-year-old Haitian-American girl from Boston, was sent to Escuela Caribe after acting out and experimenting with drugs to cope with childhood traumas, including rape. Tai opens up to Kate, telling her that what the school is doing is wrong and encourages her to expose the truth to the world.
Kate begins to realize that she has stumbled upon a much scarier story than she originally thought. This is solidified when she meets David, who was sent to the program shortly after coming out to his parents. David has been unable to communicate with anyone in the outside world since he was forcibly taken in the middle of the night by people his parents hired to transport him to the school. With Kate, he feels safe enough to reveal not only why he was sent there, but also how he has been plotting to escape. David begs Kate to find a way to tell his friends back home in Colorado what happened to him. Unbeknownst to the staff, he slips her a letter intended for his best friend Angie. The letter reveals the harsh realities this once promising honor student has been unwillingly subjected to as a direct result of his sexual orientation.
With mounting evidence that this so-called “therapeutic boarding school” is no more than a crude brainwashing camp, Kate is determined to help at least one student escape. The struggles she faced to secure David’s freedom reveals just how far Escuela Caribe will go to prevent their students from leaving. The journey will test Kate’s faith in ways she could never imagine.
The growth of the troubled teen industry in the United States has given rise to many other allegations of the inhumane treatment of youth and the exploitation of families. The goal of Kidnapped for Christ is to tell the stories of the students who were sent to Escuela Caribe and to give them a voice so that they may make people aware of the broader industry of schools like this and the potential danger they constitute for our youth.
CRITICA di Adam Patterson (filmpulse.net)
As a young, evangelical student filmmaker, director Kate Logan originally set our to create a documentary about Christian boarding schools, and the good they were doing in reforming troubled kids. What she found however after visiting the Escuela Caribe school in the Dominican Republic, was that there was something much more sinister happening behind the walls.
Kidnapped for Christ provides an unprecedented peek inside a Christian behavior modification school and shines a light on an appalling $2 billion a year industry. Logan was given access to shoot her film throughout the entire campus as well as do one on one interviews with the students and staff.
After only being there for a few days it was clear that something wasn’t quite right with how the children were being treated, and through her extensive interviews with the kids she begins to realize this isn’t some wholesome place for doing the Lord’s work.
Although the film follows several of the teens, the main focus is of a young man named David, who was torn from his bed during the night and immediately flown to the school without any prior knowledge or preparation. He couldn’t say goodbye to his friends or tell anyone where he was going. So what did David do to deserve such a harsh punishment? Was he failing in school? Abusing drugs and alcohol? Actually, he was a devout Christian who never dabbled in drugs or alcohol and he had a 4.5 GPA in school. The reason David was sent to Escuela Caribe, much like many others, was because he’s gay.
As the film progresses and Kate becomes more attached to the students, the faculty begins putting limits on what she can film and with whom she can talk to. In addition, David asks her to smuggle a letter out to his best friend letting her know where he is and pleading to get him out. This brings Kate into the film itself, as she then becomes a part of the story.
The documentary itself isn’t necessarily the most technically proficient or pretty to look at, but it’s the content that makes it worth watching. It’s a low budget student film, and it feels exactly like a low budget student film. With docs like this however, the visuals and the presentation should always come second to compelling information, which this film has in spades.
While it was nice to stay with the subjects all the way until they are released from the school, I would have been interested to see how the parents of these kids reacted to the treatment they endured. This is something I’m sure the director attempted to do, but they probably weren’t too keen about appearing on camera.
KidnaPped for Christ is a captivating, heart breaking, and at times suspenseful documentary that raises a lot of questions and lends itself to discussion. It should also be required viewing for any parent thinking of sending their child to one of these schools.
ARTICOLO da Advocate (di Trudy Ring)
Abuse in the Name of Christianity
The horrors suffered by LGBT kids and others at a ‘therapeutic’ school are at the center of the new documentary Kidnapped for Christ — and the experience of making the film changed its director’s mind about religion.
Logan emphasizes that Escuela Caribe is one of many such schools, part of a $2 billion industry, operating with little or no oversight from any government to monitor educational quality or basic student safety. “I want people to be aware that this is a problem, and it’s a problem we can do something about,” she says. She hopes audiences will call on governments to hold these schools accountable.
Escuela Caribe, she notes, is under different management now than when she filmed there, but she remains skeptical about the school’s mission. “I don’t think there’s any reason to have a ‘therapeutic’ boarding school,” she says.
The experience also helped make Logan skeptical of religion; she says she is no longer a Christian, evangelical or otherwise. Her beliefs changed gradually over a lengthy period, she says, but what she witnessed at the school definitely figured in the process. “I’d say that my observations and experiences at Escuela Caribe played a significant role in my transition away from organized religion,” she says. “After hearing so many staff members at the school proclaim that God had called them there and that God’s hand was at work through the school, and then seeing them verbally and physically abuse children, I simply could no longer believe that I myself was capable of hearing from God. If these people could be so wrong, how could I have faith that I could hear God and not also be so wrong? That was really the beginning of the erosion of my Christian faith.”
Logan wants to make other films that deal with LGBT issues and religion, she says: “I’m really interested in the struggles of people who are LGBT and are trying to keep their faith.” She is straight and married, but she is a strong LGBT ally, with a sister who is bisexual.
Before directing other films, though, she’s looking for other “day jobs” — she just finished working as a coordinator on an episode of PBS’s Independent Lens — and putting the final touches on Kidnapped for Christ.
What audiences see in Sacramento will be a finished product, she says, but it may need some sound work or color correction, and she and her team are raising funds for that. They had a successful IndieGoGo campaign to raise production money, and donors who wish to contribute now can go through the International Documentary Association, she says.
Also helping to raise funds is former ’N Sync member Lance Bass, who recently signed on as an executive producer. He came to the project because he was acquainted with another of the executive producers, actor and erstwhile Real World cast member Mike C. Manning, and has “kind of been a champion for the film,” Logan says.
Logan adds that she hopes those who attend the Sacramento screening will offer feedback that will help her market the film; she’d like for it to get a distribution deal for either television or theatrical release. But most of all, she wants to raise awareness.
“The number one thing is that Escuela Caribe is just one of a number of these schools,” she says. And that constitutes a problem, she adds, but “it’s a solvable one.”