In 2013, the images of a young girl, Zoe, being removed from her family in the short film “ReMoved” flooded social media. People across the country were moved by the depiction of the little girl’s efforts to take care of her younger brother, deal with the aftermath of the abuse and neglect the siblings experienced in their family, and fight against their subsequent separation from each other in foster care.
The fictional film was prompted by the experience of Nathanael and Christina Matanick as they went through the licensing process to become foster parents. Wanting to put a face to the experiences of young children in foster care, they produced “ReMoved” and then the 2015 “ReMoved 2,” which follows the young girl’s journey through foster care.
Those film projects launched the Matanicks into a whole realm of work in the foster care arena and their next project is following a similar trend. The couple currently has a call out for submissions for “The ReMoved Anthology Project” about foster care, focused on the experiences shared by children in the system.
The Matanicks are still accepting submissions through the end of July with plans to have a finished product sometime this fall. The Chronicle caught up with the Matanicks as they begin working on this new project to talk about the anthology and if there’s a “ReMoved 3” somewhere in the future.
Since the completion of ReMoved 2, what have you been working on?
Within weeks after completing filming of “ReMoved” part 2, we did officially become foster parents, receiving our first foster placement. We were delighted to welcome a 2-year-old girl into our family for a “foster only” placement. Plans changed, as they often do in the foster care world, and just under two years later, we finalized her adoption. In the midst of juggling the social workers, visit schedules and regular life commitments, on the work side we’ve been up to a lot as well.
In summary, we completed trauma-informed training material with Northwestern University in conjunction with The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). This film is entitled “Remembering Trauma” and can be seen at www.rememberingtrauma.org. We also completed a short film following a little girl who escapes Syria with her father … releasing soon.
We worked with the Department of Homeland Security on a PSA called “Neighborhood Watch” about labor trafficking as part of their Blue Campaign to combat human trafficking. We’re currently getting a feature film off the ground that highlights a foster teen struggling to find her identity and purpose amidst her tumultuous life. And of course, the Anthology Project.
Tell me about this new anthology project.
Ever since we created the “ReMoved” films, we’ve been privileged to receive an ongoing stream of messages from former (and current) foster youth wanting to share their stories. Being heard, being seen, being understood is so tremendous in helping people not feel so alone. Obviously, we can’t make every person’s story into a film, but we knew there had to be a platform out there to help these amazing stories of resiliency get the attention and recognition they deserve. Nathanael had the idea to make a compilation of stories, art and poems all forged out of the foster care system (or home lives that could have led to foster care).
Enter the Anthology Project. An anthology is a collection of poems and short stories, and this one focuses on the experience of childhood for those who have been in abusive/neglectful homes and foster homes. This anthology is going to be beautiful; both the content, the design, and the tangible book itself. It’s going to be the sort of book you want at your coffee table at home and on display at your desk at work.
What sort of pieces are you looking to include in the anthology?
We’re trying to not limit creativity. Imagine if you had a page in a book, what would you do with it?
This can range from “A day in my life” (remembering an incident that happened, or just picking an average day that sums up your childhood) or “A letter to my younger self” (what would you say to the child you?), a poem or a sentence, a painting or a photograph, lyrics to a song you’ve written.
Our focus is definitely on the experience of care from the child’s point of view (or the now adult reflecting on their childhood), but we’re open to submissions from foster parents and social workers as well. We had this really creative submission from a teenage girl still in care, and a complementary submission from her foster mom. It was really cool seeing the side-by-side submissions.
We’re artists. We love art and the creativity of expression that can happen. We have a bunch of prompts on the submission form, but we’re open to whatever former foster alum want to say to the world, and however they want to say it. Our 5-year-old is probably going to submit something, and it just might be a red-ink drawn flamingo … so really: if you had a page in a book to say something to the world, what would you do with that page?
Why the focus on youth experience?
Foster care is meant to serve children, to serve their parents for the sake of the children. It’s so critical that we care about what it’s like for the kids we’re trying to help. And retrospect is really helpful, once kids-now-adults can process what happened, and how it could have been done better. There’s always need for improvement – for improving how we serve kids and care for those in our community impacted by foster care.
One of the biggest stories in child welfare these days is how much stress opioid addiction is putting on the foster care system. Does that jive with what you have heard from youth who have contributed to the anthology so far?
So far, the submissions have highlighted the tremendous resiliency of youth. Most people submitting their stories haven’t gone into detail on the reason for their entering care, so I would definitely defer to the experts about how the current opioid epidemic is affecting foster care.
Any plans to do a film in conjunction with the anthology?
Actually, we have a part 3 in the “ReMoved” series (titled “Love Is Never Wasted”) premiering in Utah in August. Stay tuned, you’ll see it soon thereafter online and it is beautiful! Written by foster alum and advocate Liz Hunter, this short explores the reluctant-to-get-involved foster dad and the bittersweet challenges of reunification, all told from the child’s point of view, of course.