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October 30, 2013
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Film looks at family breakup through children’s eyes

“Every day they would scream … scream, scream, scream, scream, scream,” said Olivia, a child who is one of 12 kids involved in “Split,” a film about divorce through a child’s eyes that will play at a local theater this weekend.

“And that was really hard for us to do anything we wanted to, like do our homework, read a book. They would just constantly keep screaming.”

Such experiences are depicted throughout the film, from the way children feel blame for the separation of their parents to the need to be included in the discussion.

“I told my mom I really wanted to talk about this. And so then she sat me down and told me everything that was going on,” said one of the film’s children. “And even though it wasn’t that great, I still wanted to know it was happening.”

“Split” filmmaker and award-winning documentarian Ellen Bruno gathered a group of Northern California kids to talk about the good, bad and funny aspects of divorce and to give other children going through a similar situation hope for a better future and the understanding that they will overcome the parting of their parents.

“I’m sort of on a mission because there’s so much divorce in our culture, and we need to do it a better way, to move through it with less conflict, not just for the kids but for the adults, as well,” Bruno said.

The children were given a direct understanding of the purpose behind the film and were able to share their experiences with clarity, Bruno said.

“I said, ‘Look, you need to talk about your experiences and talk to other kids who are just starting on this path,’” she said. “They took that really seriously, were incredibly articulate and wise and able to share wisdom in a really profound way.”

The film includes children from various ethnic backgrounds with varied family arrangements, from nuclear families and their experiences to children with stepfamilies and same-sex parents.

“It’s a very inclusive film in that way,” Bruno said. “There is a point for more kids to identify.”

“Split” is a 30-minute film, including live action and animation with actual children’s drawings.

It will be featured at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Magic Theatre at 107 Argall Way, Nevada City, with a panel discussion after including Bruno and social worker Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.; marriage and family therapists Aida Baker and Avia Rotlevy; psychologist Michael Axelman, Ph.D.; and certified childbirth educator Laurie Chamberlin.

“It encourages partners to make better choices as they move through divorce,” said Peterson. “It’s a very heartfelt film with only kids talking about their experiences of divorce, their struggles and how they’ve coped with it. Children really show us what’s in their hearts and minds and what can help them through the process.”

The idea for “Split” came from Bruno’s own experiences as a child and adult.

Her parents divorced when she lived in a small rural area in Rhode Island during a time when nobody talked about divorce, which made her feel isolated.

The same feeling returned when she later divorced with two small children and was unable to find resources to help her children through the process. She didn’t want other kids or parents to feel as isolated, which gave her the idea for the movie.

“I thought, ‘This is happening everywhere,’” Bruno said. “Kids need a hip, straightforward film and need to hear from other kids, like how all of us need to hear from our peers.”

Peterson will discuss what people can do to make the transition easier, beginning with the idea that high conflict and not divorce is what causes problems, and those problems can take a toll on the whole family.

“Research has shown, in fact, children who remain in their parents’ intact marriage in which there is continuous high conflict fare worse than their divorced counterparts,” Peterson said. “There’s an opportunity to handle things differently, and this is the thrust of what the children say.”

Peterson advises those going through a divorce with children to reduce the other changes children will experience, if possible, including residences and schools.

She also said reducing financial stress for the first six to 12 months and taking out a loan could be the best course of action to remain financially stable because impoverishment during a divorce is one of the great indicators of disturbances for children.

Peterson also advises parents to not use the child as a confidant to relieve stress or pain.

“Parents and families having high conflict have to be able to manage that outside of children and get help. You bring your conflict to a counselor so it’s not dripping all over the house,” Peterson said.

“I work with people like that, and it’s good they do that. It keeps it away from the children so it doesn’t get in the way of their development.”

She also said parents should refrain from discussing the details of the divorce, which is demonstrated in the film through the children’s explanation of their feelings when such action takes place.

Regardless of the child’s level of information about the separation, parents can shape the impact through discussion and understanding, Peterson said.

“Sometimes children know and are relieved because there’s been so much conflict. Sometimes kids are surprised or didn’t see it coming … and either of those extremes can be traumatic in their own way, but in the end, they have to both come to the middle. The conflicted kids have to get out, and kids who know nothing have to understand what happened,” she said.

Visit http://splitfilm.org for information.

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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The Union Updated Oct 30, 2013 10:50PM Published Nov 1, 2013 10:22AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.