KEEP QUIET AND FORGIVE for DocPitch at DocLands
Silenced for years by her Amish community, a woman becomes the first to report her sexual assault. Her fight ignites a growing movement of Amish survivors reclaiming their stories, and exposes a sexual abuse crisis that will impact Amish communities across America after centuries shrouded in secrecy.
Thirty years after being raped as a teenager by an Amish man in her community, Amish girl-turned-advocate Lizzy Hershberger breaks her silence and reports her sexual assault to the police. Lizzy's story of coming forward despite backlash from her Amish community inspires other Amish survivors to tell their stories of abuse and expose a systemic problem of sexual abuse in Amish communities.
The film is based on an investigation by Director Sarah McClure.
Today, Amish survivors like Lizzy are intimidated, coerced, and threatened by their communities to stay silent. Amish are not permitted to get outside help or report to law enforcement — considered "too worldly." Instead, Amish are pressured to "forgive and forget" their abusers and discouraged from speaking out. Amish women and girls are blamed for their assaults, accused of "seducing" men by how they dress or how they walk.
Lizzy sets out to change that. She builds a movement of Amish and Mennonite survivors—helping them break their silence and navigate life after abuse, suicidal thoughts, and excommunication.
We meet Elizabeth, who left her Amish community with her sons after helping to convict her rapist husband. We meet Menno, who was kicked out of his Amish home after escaping abuse. We meet Katrina, who helped to convict her abuser while her Mennonite community pressured her to drop charges. We meet Dena, who founded the Amish survivors' support group, Voices of Hope, with Lizzy.
In the first act, we see Lizzy's present day, how she reported, and her journey as one of the country's first Amish sexual abuse advocates. Lizzy rediscovers her Amish diary and describes how at 14 years old, an Amish man named Chriss raped her. She details the aftermath: being condemned and bullied by her community until she left the Amish. We end with Lizzy confronting her community in the courthouse. But she's not alone — Amish and Mennonite survivors stand by her side.
In the second act, Lizzy's advocacy work takes off. She answers phone calls and social media messages as Amish victims desperately reach out to her. One text message reads: "Please help; I was abused. I know you came forward, and I want to know how I can too." She accompanies Katrina to her court hearing against her Mennonite abuser. We see how far this movement has come as Lizzy and Dena host their Voices of Hope conference. Dozens travel from Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to attend. Lizzy enlists the help of Amish church leaders and Amish male survivors — they are critical to growing this movement.
In the third act, Lizzy's movement ends on a note of hope and her vision that the work goes on. Now connected with Amish survivors nationwide, Lizzy outreaches with hashtags #AmishMeToo, #AmishRebel, and #FormerAmishMakingNoise. She speaks on Facebook Live with survivors. She trains to become a court advocate and Pennsylvania Dutch translator. Mentees even start support groups of their own.
PROJECT STAGE & TIMELINE
Today, IN PLAIN SIGHT is at an early stage of post-production. This summer, we delivered a rough cut to ITVS, our production partner since 2021. In the editing room, we continue to shape up scenes and interviews.
We are 85 percent complete with key interviews and scenes. We also have a handful of pick-up shoots we would like to pursue to round out our narrative.
In addition, we continue to fundraise to finish post-production. Our goal is to bring in finishing funds to work with an A-level editor (currently in talks with a few) and our consulting editor, Mikaela Shwer (HBO'S ALLEN V FARROW, Netflix's HARRY & MEGAN).
One of our major project activities this fall includes our contract talks with Soledad O'Brien Productions, whose producers have supported our film and are eager to join our team. In the fall, we also attended Gotham Project Market, which enabled us to begin talks with 30-plus groups, including Sundance Film Festival, A+E Television Networks, equity partners, Tribeca, SXSW, and HotDocs (Heather Haynes).
In April 2023, we expect to be at a more advanced Rough Cut stage. We plan to finish the film in 2023.
Pick Up Shoots: Jan – April 2023
Offline Edit: October-June 2021
Assembly: January 2022
Rough Cut 1: March 2022
Rough Cut 2: April 2022
Rough Cut 3: May 2022
Fine Cut: June 2023
Picture Lock: August 2023
Post Production: June-August 2023
ITVS Delivery: Summer, 2023
Festival Submissions: Summer/Fall 2023
Sarah McClureDirectorNetflix's Radicals Rising; Netflix's Frat Power; Fusion's Prison Kids: A Crime Against America’s Children; Netflix's Death by Fentanyl; PBS' Mexico: The Royal Tour
Jessie DeeterDirectorHBO's The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley; Frontline's Death by Fire; Do You Trust This Computer?; A Revolution in Four Seasons (Hot Docs); Showtime's Spark: A Burning Man Story; Sony Pictures Classics' Who Killed the Electric Car?; and PBS Independent Lens' Revenge of the Electric Car
Project Type:Documentary, Feature, Television
Genres:social justice, human rights, reproductive, sexual abuse, women's rights, religion, Amish
Runtime:1 hour 24 minutes
Completion Date:August 1, 2023
Production Budget:872,283 USD
Country of Origin:United States
Country of Filming:United States
Shooting Format:4K, 2K
PBSDistributorCountry: United States
Director/Producer Sarah McClure is an award-winning investigative journalist and filmmaker. She has worked for The Wall Street Journal, Fusion, Univision, Center for Investigative Reporting, Agence France-Presse and The New York Times. As part of the investigative documentary teams at Fusion, she co-produced the Netflix series, The Naked Truth. There, she worked on films, RADICALS RISING, FRAT POWER, and PRISON KIDS: A CRIME AGAINST AMERICA’S CHILDREN, which earned her team nominations for a News and Documentary Emmy Award and Livingston Award. As a Mexican-American, Sarah has a passion for covering Latin America and has worked throughout Mexico. Her approach to storytelling is based in deeply reported and human-driven narratives.
Co-Director/Producer Jessie Deeter, PGA, is an Emmy-nominated Oakland-based filmmaker who has spent over two decades telling stories that reveal often unheard perspectives. Her films include: HBO’s THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY; Frontline’s 2010 season premiere, DEATH BY FIRE; Elon Musk’s Do You Trust This Computer?; A REVOLUTION IN FOUR SEASONS, which premiered at Hot Docs; Showtime’s SPARK: A BURNING MAN STORY; the critically acclaimed Sony Pictures Classics WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?; and REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR, which premiered on Independent Lens. Overwhelmed by the strength of Sarah’s reporting and the bravery of the Amish men and women who speak out, she is proud to be part of this project.
ARTISTIC APPROACH / DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT
IN PLAIN SIGHT combines multicamera interviews, observational verité, aerials, archival footage (including Amish's personal collections of photographs, handwritten letters, and home videos), and audio/visual artifacts from actual Amish sexual assault court cases, such as mugshots and police audio interviews with offenders.
Audiences get transported into this powerful story through gripping testimonials from Amish sexual assault survivors sharing their stories for the first time on camera and our cinematic prowess using a single handheld camera following our subjects. Throughout, we capitalize on the lightness and darkness that persist in Amish communities.
We see one of our subjects, 36-year-old Elizabeth — an Amish woman ostracized by her Indiana Amish community for reporting her rapist — as she drives her horse-drawn plow in her garden. She's barefoot, and her bonnet strings jerk in the wind as she is forced to push the plow forward in the dirt. Determination on her face.
Inside a Wisconsin courthouse, 19-year-old Katrina — a Mennonite woman who became suicidal after being sexually assaulted by a Mennonite man in her community — stares defiantly at her abuser as he walks past her into the courtroom, several Mennonite community members behind him for support. Minutes before, the camera had captured Katrina and Lizzy sitting in a car and rehearsing Katrina's victim impact statement, which Katrina will read aloud in court.
As the director and producer, I have creative control and own the story rights from my investigative article in Cosmopolitan magazine.
As the director, I started my investigative reporting on the Amish in 2018, wondering about the potential impact and ramifications that might come from making a feature film. But since the magazine article (on which the film is based) was published, public discourse continues to swell around #MeToo, and our country is now grappling with protecting women's access to reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. It is my belief that this film is timely and will have a deep and lasting impact on audiences for generations. Moreover, I want the film to affect social change, generate unexpected, new perspectives about the Amish, and illuminate the subjects as heroes and agents of change who were the first to speak truth to power in their communities when no one else would.
It's a worthwhile film for DocPitch at DocLands to get behind and lift up—this story deserves to be told. Given DocLands' history with impactful films like Navalny and The Territory, we envision DocLands as a critical partner in the success of this film.
CONNECTION, ACCESS, ACCOUNTABILITY
As investigative journalists and filmmakers, we aim to put a spotlight on the systemic problem of Amish sexual abuse, including the victim silencing and injustices felt by generations of Amish women and men.
As much as possible, the film has been a collaboration between us as the filmmakers and our Amish subjects. This ideal of giving our subjects agency and participation in their own stories was rooted in the investigative reporting process, which started in 2018.
At that time, I was an investigative journalist reporting on Amish child sexual abuse for Cosmopolitan magazine and Type Investigations. When I started, I heard about a "whisper network" of Amish women who wanted to expose allegations of a coverup of sexual abuse. I embedded with this network and flew from Los Angeles to Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio, where I met with Amish women in their homes, churches, and safe houses (taking precautions to safeguard them from retaliation by the Amish church). I spent years uncovering 60-plus Amish sexual abuse court cases and speaking with law enforcement, judges, social workers, and concerned citizens. Everyone was eager to talk to me.
Now, four years into the film, my team and I have forged strong relationships with these women and men. We have gotten to know them personally and their families. Off-camera, my co-director, Jessie, and I have spent thousands of hours conversing with our subjects, who sometimes share with us what they hope audiences will take away from their stories.
We have the informed consent of all of our subjects. We have worked closely with our subjects and legal team to collect all the appearance, location, and materials releases required for the film. Notwithstanding, we spend time sitting down with our subjects before conducting an interview, we explain who we are, what the story is about, and are clear about our intentions with the film. Some subjects, like Lizzy, Katrina and Elizabeth, have gone through the legal process (police report, court proceedings) and have had professional counseling and access to victim support advocates. We also invite our subjects to invite a supportive friend or family member to be present when filming.
Those conversations evolve as sometimes they come back to us with additional questions. In one or more instances, we have adapted the language in our releases to support them. Nobody is pressured or coerced into filming without lengthy, heartfelt and open dialogue.
As co-directors, our team combines decades of experience as investigative journalists with an understanding of the professional, trauma-informed and care-intensive approach required to accomplish a film like IN PLAIN SIGHT. As the Director and journalist who originated the story and exposed an injustice through her reporting, it is a personal goal to stay mindful of our subjects’ journeys as survivors and to minimize risk and potential harm that can come from the filmmaking process.
Finally, I am a survivor of child sexual abuse and, in recent years, have begun to share my journey with some of the film subjects. My background has helped me relate to and gain my subjects' trust.
The Amish subjects in our film continue to express that working with us has created a path for them to get their stories out.