In the first city to ban abortion in Ohio, a lifelong resident grapples with the transformation of her hometown.

Krista Wyatt has lived in the small town of Lebanon, Ohio for her entire life. She spent thirty years as a firefighter and EMT before retiring and running for a position on Lebanon’s City Council. Her understanding of public service—infrastructure, budget, public safety—is ultimately upended by a sudden right-wing push to refocus the council on cultural issues, culminating in a successful effort to ban abortion within city limits.

Sanctuary finds Krista contending with Lebanon’s designation as a Sanctuary City for the Unborn—the first city in Ohio to pass such legislation. Having resigned her position from council in protest, she now spends her time as a volunteer storm spotter, calling in warnings for severe weather in Lebanon and surrounding areas.

While monitoring a storm rolling into town, Krista recounts the story of the Lebanon’s anti-abortion ordinance. As she does, a clearer picture of her hometown comes into focus through Krista’s eyes, revealing the tension between personal conviction and a dedication to the places we call home.

  • John Haley
  • Julia Szromba
  • John Haley
  • Julia Szromba
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    15 minutes 37 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 31, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    900 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - John Haley, Julia Szromba

John Haley is a documentary filmmaker and professor born and raised in Minnesota and currently living in Alabama. Guided by a minimalist approach to filmmaking, John aims to emphasize the reality of his characters’ experiences through handheld cinematography and carefully structured landscapes while working to situate stories within a broader social and political context. Thematically, his films grapple with contentious issues such as the death penalty and electoral politics through the lens of specific characters, contextualizing these social structures through distinct perspectives in pursuit of nuance and a more truthful, holistic understanding of reality. His award-winning films have screened at Wisconsin Film Festival, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, Tallgrass, Reeling, Sidewalk, CUFF.Docs, Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Nevada City, and EarthxFilm, among others.

Julia Szromba is a documentary filmmaker and editor born and raised in Chicago. She is now based in Los Angeles and works for Morgan Neville’s Tremolo Productions. While her documentary work has spanned a wide range of topics from sports history to death penalty advocacy to meme stock trading, her projects all aim to find the small human moments within an otherwise overwhelming story. She approaches filmmaking from a writer’s perspective, guiding the audience through complex issues and emotions with clarity and balance. Films she has worked on have gone on to screen at SXSW, Cleveland International Film Festival, and Slamdance, among others, and have streamed on Hulu, Paramount+, and HBO.

John Haley

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Director Statement

Our short film "Sanctuary," centered on Krista Wyatt's shifting understanding of her hometown, unfolds within our current political climate, with issues of abortion access, political polarization, and the nationalization of local government all surrounding the story of Lebanon, Ohio—the first town to declare itself a Sanctuary City for the Unborn within the state.

Despite its hyper-local focus on one community, "Sanctuary" points to a new reality of abortion rights across America—a patchwork degree of access or restriction based on geography and the political powers that control these regions. We imagine the story of the Lebanon anti-abortion ordinance revealing the undeniable presence of nationalized, polarized politics in local government and the current and future political battles that have and will continue to shape local government, perhaps within viewers’ own communities.