On Tuesday, May 19th, POV was thrilled to partner with BRIC for their inaugural BRIC FLIX program. POV’s Tough Love kicked off the free film screening and conversation series to a packed house. BRIC, an organization that champions the creativity of Brooklyn across a wide range of artistic disciplines, hosted the event at their fantastic BRIC House, which provided a state of the art space to screen the film. Accompanying two parents as they navigate the often murky waters of the foster-care system, trying to reunite with their children and prove that they deserve second chances, Tough Love is moving as well as challenging. Provoking questions regarding what it means to be a good parent and how to prove you are responsible after being deemed unfit, the film provided plenty of discussion for the panel that followed the screening. Moderated by Jess Dannhauser, President and CEO of Graham Windham Foster Care Agency, the panel included Tough Love’s director Stephanie Wang-Breal, Lauren Shapiro, Director of Family Defense Practice, Brooklyn Defender Service, Bevanjae Kelley, Parent Advocate at Jewish Child Care Association (JCCA) and CWOP Board co-chair, along with one of the parents featured in the film, Philly Toribio.
The engaging panel included audience members from all sides of the foster-care system who asked tough questions, provided commentary, and even thanked the panelists for their hard work to help illuminate and reform the country’s child welfare system.
Director Stephanie Wang-Breal spoke about struggle of representing all sides of the story, as certain key individuals in one of the featured parent’s case, such as her ex-boyfriend, caseworker and lawyer, declined to be in the film:
“They all said they might participate but in the end decided against it. It was challenging to represent them without hearing their voice. That was a challenge when constructing the film.”
It was a challenge which eventually led to the expansion of Tough Love from its focus on single family’s struggle in New York to a Bi-Coastal study of the child welfare system by including the Seattle narrative, whose subjects gave the director more access to both sides of the system. The director concluded:
“The story that you see today is really about access, who let me in and who let me show these parents’ stories.”
It was accessibility, both to necessary resources and individuals to bridge the gap between themselves and the courts, that moderator, Jess Dannhauser, argued was the primary roadblock for parents dealing with the child welfare system despite recent improvements seen in the last few years:
“No matter how good the system gets, parents need a relationship that is just for themselves, whether it’s their attorney or a parent advocate we’ve hired. Parent’s don’t want to be in the system anymore they want support from people who understand.”
Philly Toribio, who, along with his wife Hannah, has since been reunited with his children, was asked what he wanted people to understand after viewing the film. He spoke honestly, emphasizing at the end of the day what seemingly endless struggle depicted in the film had been all about:
“Even though we went through hard times, we still can be seen to be parents and still be there for my daughter, make sure she eats every day, goes to school, and do what she gotta do. Maybe when she gets a bit older I’ll let her see the film. It was tough.”
Tough Love will broadcast on POV on July 6th.