Pervert Park

PBS Premiere: July 11, 2016Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Interview

Filmmakers Frida Barkfors and Lasse Barkfors discuss the making of the film, Pervert Park.

POV: Could you describe Pervert Park for someone who hasn't seen it?

Frida Barkfors: Pervert Park is about a trailer park in Florida that has a housing program for sex offenders, about 120. And we follow their everyday life and try to figure out what the life of a sex offender looks like. It's about trying to find out who they are and why they have ended up in the park and committing their sex crime. It's also about sexual abuse as a theme of course and about how we can curb the cycle of sexual abuse. And normally when we talk about sexual abuse we listen to victims' stories. That's very important too, but we wanted to give a voice to the people who are not normally heard. So we went and talked to the offenders. As it turns out, many of them are victims themselves, but they're treated only as offenders today. And we wanted to hear their stories to find out if we can learn something by listening to it.

POV: Why you titled the film Pervert Park?

Frida Barkfors: Pervert Park is not a title that we came up with, it's actually the society's nickname for the park. That's what the place is called by the neighbors and people that live around it. When we heard of that nickname, it was obvious that the film had to be titled that. It's a playful title in that sense that it plays on the prejudice that we all have, or have had at some point and, and what's behind the name.

POV: How you first learned of the story?

Frida Barkfors: Pervert Park started out completely different than it ended. We read an article in a Danish newspaper about the park. And it was described as this parallel society where there were a housing program for sex offenders that didn't really integrate with the outside. It just caught our attention. And we didn't really question what a sex offender was, we had completely bought into the mainstream media portrayal of a sex offender, so it wasn't even a question for us. In order to get their permission to film, we went there for a research trip to shoot some material. And we spent about a week not filming, but sitting down and talking to them, and it was our first meeting with a convicted sex offender. It was completely eye-opening to us. It just raised some questions that we hadn't asked before. And it turns out that reality is much more complex than we normally see it described in the mainstream media.

POV: Do you think you would have been able to approach the project, the subject matter, the themes from a fiction film or from a visual art perspective or was this the right medium for the story?

Lasse Barkfors: I think it's the right medium for the story, really. Very early on when we did the research, we were trying different forms for the film. Very fast we figured out that that was impossible to apply any form than just make the film on eye level with these people, and really watch them when they tell their story because their story is more than enough. You can't really imagine anyone tell stories like these and not see them in the eyes when they tell it. Because you want to see how they look like, because they're so honest and it's so heartbreaking, many of these stories, on many levels.

POV: It's a difficult film, it's a quiet film so it's great to hear your intention and motivation creatively going into it, because in America and I'm sure in Europe too, we have a lot of hyper-sexualized content in the media and a lot of it is visual. This is a film that's very quiet visually and most of what makes it so difficult is what you hear. Do have anything you want to add about the tone of the film or your approach creatively or aesthetically?

Lasse Barkfors: The very, very difficult thing about making this film was the balance in how will the viewer react to these stories and will they believe them, And I think the first thing we ask ourselves when we hear these stories is, do they minimize? And that was very important for us that we couldn't be accused of minimizing their crimes. So we made sure that we had them tell about the crime, both with us individually and in the therapy class, where it's public, where the therapist knows about their offenses.
Frida Barkfors: I think one thing that we also worked with a lot is trying to get away from any kind of sensationalism. And I think that's why the film is so quiet. We're portraying what we met. We want the audiences to take that in and come to any conclusion that they want.

POV: They're very difficult stories to hear and, I imagine, on set very difficult for you to hear. How did you manage the stress and emotional toll of listening to those stories day after day?

Frida Barkfors: It was emotional in that sense that I didn't really have one emotion all the time. And I think this goes for Lasse too. It's still actually very complex for us, the whole thing, because you can have you can have many emotions at one time. You can care for a person and still find the crime that he or she did horrendous, but you know that there's more to the story; you know that this person was maybe, him or herself abused when they were children. And there's a fine line between a victim and an offender. Not that I'm saying that all victims become offenders, but a lot of offenders are victims themselves. And when do you stop being a victim and become only an offender?

POV: One of the things you talk about was how mass media has shaped your perceptions. Was that mass media in Scandinavia or in the States; is the mass media representation of sex offenders different abroad?

Frida Barkfors: I think it's very similar. It's the same. It's painted in black and white, and sex offenders are seen as monsters. And that's the picture I bought into: the general idea of pedophiles hiding in the bushes waiting for children to kidnap. And, you know fear sells, and fear sells back home in Scandinavia as well. So it's very similar.

POV: What were your motivations and intentions in making this film when you first started?

Frida Barkfors: We had completely bought into the mainstream media portrait of sex offenders. But when we got to the park, we realized that reality is much more complex. There is not one answer to why these people ended up here. It's very different. There's a lot of different stories. Some are victims themselves. Some have anger issues. Some are pedophiles. And some have been caught in stings so they basically haven't done anything. I mean it was eye-opening to us and we wanted to share this with the audience.

Lasse Barkfors: We had a very long editing process. And we actually knew a lot about what we wanted to do in the editing, but the small details and the structure of when to tell the different stories, that was what took a long, long time. So it was very important for us to show the spectra of the residents in the park. So going from the most horrific offense to the lightest offense because these people are so different and their stories and backgrounds are so different and their issues are so different, that was very important for us.

Frida Barkfors: When you hear the word sex offender, you have one picture in your head. And the reality is that it can be minor offenses. Such as the Romeo and Juliet cases where it's a consensual, long-term relationship where one part, most often the man, turns over 18 and then it's a crime, to kidnapping and raping a child. But they're both sex offenders. So it doesn't really say much about what kind of crime you committed.

POV: For any viewer watching the film, there's some really difficult content. For survivors of sexual abuse, it likely will be even more so. As you were making the film, what were your thoughts towards survivors of sexual abuse, and how have you kept them in mind as the film has gone out into the world?

Frida Barkfors: I think that's the single most important question that we worked with throughout the whole process, and it comes back to what I said before: how to listen to these offenders without minimizing their crime and by doing so, victimizing victims all over again. So during the editing process, we collaborated with victim organizations and lawyers of former victims to make sure that they were okay with the film and that we didn't do anything that could potentially offend them or hurt them. They said that it's actually very helpful for some people to talk about it. And at least we can say okay. It's not going to help not talking about it because it's just going to put a lid on it and it's not going to help the problem. So we do need to listen to these people and that's why we did the film. It's to help victims and to prevent this from happening again.