“The years before five last the rest of their lives”, or so the saying goes. But what happens when the years before five are spent in an environment of neglect, abuse and unsafe conditions? Can a child so broken in their formative years that they are unable to trust, relate to those around them, or express themselves in any ways other than violent, agressive behaviour, learn to accept love from another person, and grow into a happy, healthy individual? For foster parents of children who have been diagnosed with Attachment Disorder, the answer comes as a rollercoaster ride of struggle, failures, heartaches, turning points, hope and, ultimately, love.
My Name Is Faith follows one particular story of 12-year-old Faith who, together with her younger brother, struggle to battle the demons they acquired as infants and toddlers, and embrace a new life with their loving foster parents, as all of them work every day to become a real family. The battle is not an easy one for any of those involved, and the importance of having an understanding community and support group can not be overlooked.
Faith is a beautiful, intelligent girl, with far too much pain behind her eyes for someone so young. It’s easy to see the love her foster mother has for her, yet it’s also just as easy to see how patience and nerves get stretched to the point of nearly breaking when dealing with a child who has developed such severe defence mechanisms since before she was born. Reprogramming Faith to exist and survive in a less-threatening world from the one she was born into seems an impossible task at times.
Hope comes in the form of Nancy Thomas’ Camp Connect - a sort of therapeutic retreat for the whole family, where each member can learn the skills and tools they need to help their children grow, change, and learn how to be happy. What Camp does most of all is give everyone a chance to see that they are not alone. There are other parents struggling with the same fears and frustrations, and there are other kids who battle every day to express themselves and ask for what they need.
The level of sometimes brutal honesty in this film is one of the first things that impressed me about it. Faith herself is fascinating to watch, and the camera doesn’t shy away from her inner battles. Often in tight close-up, we see Faith in some of her most candid, hurt, humourous, honest, and dishonest moments. We get to watch her grow and change, own her emotions, and hold herself accountable for her own honesty. Her fear of losing the people she loves – those who love her – is heartbreaking to see, but ultimately empowering as she slowly and tentatively learns to trust.
The film itself is an emotional rollercoaster of ups and downs, much as life with these children can be. The level of honesty and courage from the parents is inspirational. Watching them go from expressing their deepest fears and uncertainties with respect to their children, coupled with their fierce determination to not give up on making their families whole – admittedly, I wondered several times throughout the course of this film whether or not I would be strong enough to do the same. Indeed, I found my eyes to still be leaking even after the final credits rolled.
The beauty of this film lies in its innate truth – that there is no magic “cure” for these kids, nor a button to press that will make everything okay. It takes work, and everyone has to fight for every inch of ground that is gained in their growth and development. But when you see a child make and hold eye contact with the adult who loves them, and that child is able to feel the love seeping into them from their very own mom and dad – it’s in those moments that the true magic lies, and the hope of everyone is that they will last longer and longer each time they come, until finally inside that child beats a powerful heart of their own.
My Name Is Faith has its World Premiere screening at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto on May 2 at 7:15pm (Royal), May 3 at 1:30pm (Cumberland) and May 5 at 6:30pm ROM)