A critical new audience has opened up for “Prisoner of Her Past” in the past several weeks: students.
Though we had shown the film once before to teenagers – at Northwestern University’s National High School Institute – the scope and breadth of our student audience expanded dramatically last month. “Prisoner” has played to hundreds of youngsters in Arlington, Tx., and hundreds more in St. Louis and elsewhere
The demographic has been immense, spanning college-age to middle school; black, white, Latino and Asian; American-born and African immigrants.
Their comments have been striking.
“I come from a place that was a cruel dictatorship, and I’ve seen some things, and my mom knows much more,” said a student from the People’s Republic of Congo at Tarrant Community College, in Arlington, after watching “Prisoner.”
“I can understand why your mother never wanted to talk about what happened to her.”
A friend of his from Ghana echoed the thought.
“My family was very secretive about how we lived in the past, when I was very young,” said the TCC student, comparing his family’s traumatic experiences to those my mother, and her cousins Leon and Fanka, suffered 60 years earlier.
“Leon had something to hold on to – the family who hid him,” the student said. “That’s why they coped in different ways.
“Your mother was on her own. She was forced to become harsh.”
The insights of these young adults suggested that they could see elements of their own stories – their own lives – in “Prisoner of Her Past.” Which is precisely why we made the film: to shed light on childhood trauma, past, present and future.
But you don’t need to have suffered a trauma as a child – or even to be in college – to hear this film’s message.
In St. Louis schools, pre-teens and others asked pointed questions:
“How did it feel to stand there, in Dubno, where all those terrible things happened?” inquired one student, referring to Shibennaya Hill, where thousands of Jews from Dubno were massacred. “Did you have nightmares about being there?” (Yes, indeed – and before traveling there, too.)
“Were you surprised that some of the kids in New Orleans were acting just like your mother?” (Shattered, actually.)
At one point, I was walking between classes in a St. Louis school, and a group of students surrounded me in the hallway to ask more questions. Minute by minute, more kids gathered, to talk about the film.
Now I was sure we had made contact.
Since then, invitations to bring the film to various public and religious schools have been picking up.
Once we’ve developed a study guide for “Prisoner of Her Past,” the film’s lessons will be that much more potent.
- Howard Reich