Final Take: The producers of "Kidnapped For Christ" on film-fest accolades and inspiring activism

They always come at night. Pharaoh’s men came at night to drown the Hebrew infants during the time of Moses. Herod’s men came at night to execute the children of Bethlehem during the Nativity of Jesus. Men came at night to rip an adolescent boy named David out of his bed, dragging him against his will to an Evangelical reform school in the Dominican Republic. As innocent as the biblical babies, David’s only crime was telling his parents he was gay.

David’s story is the central focus of Kidnapped For Christ, a documentary by director Kate Logan exposing the abuses of Escuela Caribe, a boarding school for allegedly troubled youths that’s run by New Horizons Youth Ministries. Subjected to forced labor, corporal punishment and psychological manipulation, the victims’ supposed transgressions range from teen rebellion to anxiety disorders. Most terrifying is the multitude of LGBT youths sent to this or other, similar institutions by misguided parents trying to change their child’s sexual orientation.

Kidnapped premiered at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, where its blood-boiling glimpse into the billion-dollar behavior-modification industry won it the Audience Award for Documentary Feature. Boosted by this accolade, Kidnapped’s message has spread to wider audiences and even inspired viewers to challenge these abusive institutions. Instinct spoke with the troika of magi who gifted this film to the world—executive producers Lance Bass, Mike Manning and Tom DeSanto—to discuss Kidnapped, David and how to change the behavior-modification industry.

What motivated you to get involved with this film?

MIKE MANNING: I met David after he went through this program. He told me his story and that there was a film being made about it. At the end of the conversation, I was so affected by what happened to him that I just said, “How can I help?”

LANCE BASS: When I saw the footage, I was so pissed. It’s a call to action. After you watch that, you’re like, “I need to do something.”

TOM DESANTO: Growing up Catholic, seeing that the Catholic sex abuse scandal was kept quiet for decades, I thought this would be some exposé on the problem with a lot of these Evangelical camps. There’s not just sexual abuse, but physical abuse and emotional abuse. Almost like prisoner-of-war camps.

What do you hope Kidnapped For Christ will accomplish?

MANNING: My hope is that this film will shed light on the entire industry as a whole, the lack of regulation that exists and the physical and mental abuse that these teens endure in hundreds of camps worldwide. When enough people know about it, lawmakers will feel the pressure to change things.

DESANTO: There’s no bigger spotlight than a great piece of film.

BASS: We want people to be talking about this, to be calling their senators.

What effect, if any, has this film had on the behavior-modification industry since the premiere at Slamdance?

MANNING: There have been loads of people visiting our website (kidnappedforchrist.com) and taking action, sharing stories and contacting their lawmakers. We hope this trend continues and grows. I want to shut these bastards down.

Why is combating the behavior-modification industry so difficult?

BASS: Uneducated people. Parents are tricked into sending their kids there because they think they are helping.

MANNING: In the U.S., it’s completely legal for a parent to sign a contract and have their child forcefully taken from his or her home and placed into one of these camps, no reason necessary. Once inside, the child loses all rights to communication, and oftentimes the camp will feed misinformation to the parents, ensuring them that they made the right decision for their child. The child is completely at the mercy of the facility and staff, who are often unlicensed and unqualified.

DESANTO: It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. What we need to do is find out what corporations are investing in these camps, looking to make a dollar off the imprisoning of kids.

In what ways does David’s story resonate with you?

BASS: I recognize myself in him. I think we all see ourselves in David.

MANNING: This could have been me, one of my siblings, someone I care about, and they would be helpless in this place. Nobody should have to go through that.

DESANTO: It almost feels like he’s a prisoner of war or doing a jail sentence. But he didn’t break any law or do anything wrong. Most parents would kill for a kid with a 4.3 GPA.

Why is this film important for gay audiences?

DESANTO: A lot of these kids are LGBT kids whose parents don’t have the emotional wisdom to deal with them. A lot of these parents come from highly religious places where they believe their children will burn in hell. What we need here is education and empathy.

Why do you think Slamdance responded so strongly to this documentary?

BASS: After watching it, you have a strong emotion. That’s what we want, because that’s what’s going to make you pick up the phone and call your representatives and write those letters.

Kidnapped For Christ premieres July 10 on Showtime

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