Hero Film Festival & Awards is a program that aims to celebrate depictions of heroism in film. As it nears the end of its first quarterly cycle, the rate of quality submissions has increased exponentially. Selected films for this first edition of the festival will be announced in September.
This week, in an ongoing effort to spotlight filmmakers who have submitted their work, our Nicholas Crawford (NC) interviewed Lauren James (LJ), writer-director of You’re Going to Ruin His Life.
Introducing You’re Going to Ruin His Life
Through a series of allegorical vignettes, You’re Going to Ruin His Life presents the stories of real-life sexual assault survivors. The film follows the main character, Mary, throughout her childhood leading up to an assault.
James, known to most as LJ, is a filmmaker and photographer from Rhode Island. They recently graduated from the University of Rhode Island. One of their greatest passions is creating music.
NC: Can you discuss the process of deciding to create this film?
LJ: I decided to create this film after witnessing the very public case between Dr. Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. I was studying abroad in Prague and was angered by the outcome of this trial as well as the general reactions of my fellow Americans. I realized that I had to do something.
Something else that drove me to create this film was the disparity between the number of male and female sexual assault victims. 20% of women experience sexual assault in their lifetime, while only 1.4% of men do the same. Why is the statistic so horribly imbalanced? I would like to clarify that I do not want to discredit male survivors in any way. Their stories are just as important and powerful, but this specific and alarming statistic was the focus of the film.
My typical style of filmmaking is very light-hearted and colorful. This film was not something I thought I was capable of creating. It has taught me more than I could have ever imagined and I am truly thankful for the response it has had thus far.
NC: Your film bears the tagline, “inspired by true stories of sexual assault survivors.” Could you discuss the experience of finding these stories?
LJ: Finding survivors was the easiest step in this process, unfortunately. On Facebook, I posted something along the lines of, “If you have a sexual assault story and you feel comfortable sharing it, please message me. I want to make a film about it and no one will ever know your identity.” I received almost thirty stories in just two days time, which was overwhelming and quite shocking. One of the key sentiments mentioned throughout many of the stories was the criticism from others, “You’re going to ruin his life.“
While the identities of the people who inspired this film remain anonymous, I cannot stress enough how upsetting their stories were. These were coworkers, classmates, teachers, family members and even strangers. I met with some in person, communicated with others through text messaging and even received a few phone calls.
NC: The narrative of your story is told in a very unique and unorthodox manner. What influenced your decision to format your film this way?
LJ: Generally, I think my style is very unorthodox. I thought about trying to compress the story into a more narrative-based structure, but I felt as though it didn’t do the subject matter justice. I wanted the film to feel strange, like a distorted home video. It was my goal to make the viewing process feel so foreign that the audience could look at sexual assault from an entirely new perspective.
I also used the language of filmmaking to highlight certain aspects of assault. For example, during the party scene, I wanted the camera to feel like it had a mind of its own. Often times in sexual assault cases, victims get asked if there was anything they could have done differently. With that independent camera movement, I wanted to convey that there was nothing she could have done.
NC: What would you consider your greatest challenge during production?
LJ: Working with children was the biggest challenge. This was my first serious directing effort, and as often happens with student films, I was responsible for the majority of the project. It was difficult to find child actors due to the film’s intense subject-matter. I made an effort to not discuss the rest of the film while they were on set.
NC: If nothing else, what do you hope that audiences will take away from your film?
LJ: I went into the project with two main goals. The first was to make sure the people who shared their stories felt heard or represented in some way. I wanted to create something capable of providing at least some validation because often in sexual assault cases, there is none.
The second goal was to force the audience to explore the messages that we collectively, as a society, send to each other, particularly the ones sent to children. Due to the stigmas surrounding sexual assault, most people do not want to discuss it. I wanted this film to show how this mindset only makes the issue worse. We need to have an open-source of communication about these issues and I believe that using the medium of film allows us to navigate these difficult conversations from a more reflective and empathetic perspective.
NC: Why do you feel that this film is a good match for Hero Film Festival and Awards?
LJ: The individuals who shared their stories for this project are my heroes. The courage they showed will forever impact me. Being able to open up about something so traumatic and personal is admirable. These people are survivors and they deserve recognition and support.
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Find online sexual assault help including local support at RAINN.org