Breaking the silence

How one MOPA film started a conversation about the grey areas of sexual assault

Christine Beyleveldt // Campus Life Editor

One of Capilano University’s most controversial student films is Kids Who Jump Off Bridges directed by fourth year Motion Picture Arts (MOPA) student Zoë Neary.

The film follows Kelly, a voyeur into a world where girls will do anything, up to and including dropping their panties for a Facebook like. On the wrong side of the social fence and desperate to find a place for herself in the grips of the pulsating party culture, Kelly’s night spins out of control and ends in a non-consensual sexual encounter. Sexual assault is something we often talk about but hardly ever address, especially when it concerns our peers.

Neary picked up the script in her second year of the program from a classmate, Kendra Lawson. In the original script, Kelly’s friend rescues her while she’s in a vulnerable position after having too much to drink, but Neary felt that the ending wasn’t quite an accurate representation. “It just played as a little bit unrealistic,” she said. “I’ve been in a lot of scenarios where girls are put into these kinds of situations at parties and they don’t know how to act because they’re almost too frightened of it. They don’t get out of the scenario, and then they’re left with this feeling of unease, but not sure if they were responsible or not.”

Neary described how she has seen two of her friends ostracized from their social group in a similar turn of events because nobody in the group wanted to be forced to choose sides. The problem was swept under the rug, and to shrug off the whole experience, the girls dove right back into the party scene with the same people.

“There’s no social impact if her friend comes in and saves her,” added producer Brady Keller, also a fourth-year MOPA student. Before production began, the creative team sat down and discussed ways in which the piece could be a conversation starter. The ensemble agreed that to show a polarizing scene, which many viewers consider a depiction of rape and others see as an uncomfortable hookup, would provoke some serious thought.

Kids Who Jump Off Bridges has been screened at the Citizen Jane Film Festival and at Hollyshorts in Los Angeles. It was nominated for Best International Student Short at the Paris Art and Movie Awards in 2015, and Sharp was nominated for a Leo Award for her performance last year.

In February 2016, the film was shown as a prelude to the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU)’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which prompted a deep conversation on campus about the moral grey areas of sexual assault. “It’s very easy to show a blatant rape on screen,” said Keller. “But it’s more difficult to be grey on film. We wanted the grey, and tried to film it as closely as possible.”

 

The film was first screened at CapU in 2015 where it received a myriad of responses. The film makes people uncomfortable, which is what Neary strove for. Of the numerous times it has been shown around the world, the film only ever received applause once. “At a short film festival people will be clapping after every film, and then our film comes and then they don’t clap, because they don’t want to clap,” said Marie V. Sharp, the Acting for Stage and Screen alumna who portrayed Kelly on screen.

“There was a male that came up after [a screening] and he was in tears,” added Neary. “He said ‘I have done something similar and didn’t realize that it was this bad,’ and [he] was grateful for having been shown himself in such an ugly way, I guess.”

A lot of people were angered because Kelly’s story didn’t empower her, but the reality is that sexual assault never has a happy ending.

The film’s main theme is exhibitionism, and Neary really wanted to explore how the online world changes our self-image. “You’re seeing most of your friends now at a distance through the screen, in the same capacity that you see celebrities,” she said. A lot of people are then behaving the same way they see celebrities behaving, including exhibitionism and extreme inebriation. This leads to girls finding themselves in compromising situations, all for the sake of appearing to have fun and taking the perfect selfie. A lot of the party scenes were cut from the final film. The deleted footage would have shown it as an atmosphere nobody really wanted to be in; even the people Kelly was going to impress were only there to keep up appearances.

What angered people even more was Kelly’s reaction to her assault. She’s clearly upset and mulling over the events of the previous night, but she lights up when she receives an invitation back to the party. Sharp described that she’s finally in with the popular crowd, and that’s all that matters to her in the moment. Realistically, Kelly would have suffered a breakdown after the end of the film, but that’s a private moment that happens off camera, and in not showing her raw reaction the filmmakers drew ire.

There’s a stigma surrounding sexual assault, and people often expect victims to behave in a certain way when in fact it’s completely normal to be left feeling confused and wanting to shake the experience off. That’s really what this whole experiment was. Neary wanted to start a conversation.

It’s been two years since the film was released. Five CapU students who worked on Kids Who Jump Off Bridges have started their own production company called Fault Line Films and they intend to keep creating work that instigates conversation. Neary and Keller have proposed the film be used as a gateway into talks on campus, as CapU has recently developed a policy and procedures to handle sexual assault cases. The consultation where the community may provide feedback on the policy’s draft takes place in the CSU Lounge at 11 am on Feb. 9.

 

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