Profoundly stuck in a 30+ year struggle to access my true voice as an artist, I was blindsided in 2011 by the arrest of my son’s teacher on child pornography charges.
Memories of sexual abuse I experienced in the 1970’s surfaced. Self-documenting my recovery suddenly became an urgent outwards spiral, generating an eight year zig-zag global journey: my opportunity to break through the voicelessness.
What do you do when you're a 45 year-old filmmaker struggling to make your own projects after decades in the industry working on other people's shows? You've got a degree in your field and most of your pals who applied themselves have actually gone on to major success. But you? You feel locked out.
Ever since becoming an adult I've sought help. The professional kind. Therapy. Bared my soul and confided all sorts of embarrassing things in the hope that somehow it would lead to the answers. But the problem was that none of those helpers ever asked the right question.
And then my son's teacher was arrested on child pornography charges.
I freaked out because although my kid said he was ok, nothing happened, I couldn't let go of the fear that something did. What if he was abused but for some reason wasn't able to say so?
Meanwhile the police said it would take three months to go through all the evidence because of the huge number of videos in the teacher's collection. 90 days of hell.
So what was the one thing in my power to do? In case that nagging feeling that my kid's been harmed was true? Go to the police. Make the report. The one that should have been made 33 years earlier. My own.
The police are amazing. They made sure my statement was taken correctly and then referred me to a facility that runs peer support programs for adult survivors of sex abuse. But that's not why I was there. My motivation was to support my child. Be a role model. But it was too late. The genie was out of the bottle.
I didn't see the point in going to a peer group. But there was something in the cop's voice that had me pay attention.
The program was once a week for three months. Those folks are not people that I would necessarily hang out with. Not that I had anything against them. Rather the opposite. It's more like we were all there for the same reason. We felt alone. And the cliche is true. You hear your truth in other peoples' stories.
For many men the realization that there's a connection between being abused in childhood and adulthood problems like drinking or anxiety is enough. But many also feel the need to do something bigger. After internalizing the problem for so long, finding a way to place it outside of themselves becomes a critical part of healing. I belong to the second group.
Once I learned that voicelessness is a hallmark of child abuse the light went on. But having an explanation wasn't enough. Realizing that the biggest barrier to my own success is and always has been inside my own head was a very bitter pill to swallow. But it was also sweet because I had the presence to start documenting my own recovery.
As a filmmaker on a journey of self-expansiveness, solving the challenge for how to show myself fighting invisible demons brings great risk because it can't be directly seen. Enter one of the most insidious elements of trauma: freeze.
The feeling of being stuck can seem permanent. For survivors, sometimes it is. Recognizing solutions can take a long time. It can be mired with the feeling of powerlessness and the need to keep repeating the only actions available, even if it seems pointless or overwhelming. I faced that problem with this project due to the large and growing numbers of interviews conducted and the ever expanding places I was going to obtain them.
Besides, the more people I talked to the less I believed anything was being achieved because what interviews basically amount to is opinions. And there's no shortage of those in the world. Besides audiences expect more than talking heads from a movie. I needed visuals to support the story. Show, don't tell.
So I looked for ways to express the internal experience of being locked into and out of your own sense of vitality and connection to humanity. The task? Find the best images that capture this elusive sensation and finally put the boots to the feeling of being trapped in voicelessness. Combine them with the growing number of interviews and magically turn it all into a compelling movie.
And there it is again. The ever-shifting goal posts. Before ever completing the first task, I changed the rules of the game. Put project completion so far into the future that it was a mere speck on the horizon. At the same time, what's driving this madness was the startling realization that child sex abuse is a rampant scourge everywhere on the planet. A global disaster playing out in slow motion.
And with it, the profound awakening that this is my moment to shine. That all the decades of hard work and frustration were only in preparation for this moment. That the most valuable thing I could ever hope to share is my story. But to express the uniqueness of it requires going to the ends of the earth and back again.
My name is James Buffin and this is the story about how I did exactly that.
Picking Trauma's Pocket was filmed in eight countries on five continents between 2011-18. It is now ready for editing to begin. Condensing over 250 hours of footage into a 90 minute film is a big job. It will be completed in 2022. We'll post updates here, including a trailer once it's ready.
Do you have questions or comments about our film? Do you have a theater where we could arrange a screening? Send us a message, and we will get back to you soon.
Picking Trauma's Pocket
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