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Four girls reveal a life of possibility beyond foster care


Foster care in America has been the subject of countless articles ~ stories on the one hand that praise the loving-kindness of parents who open their arms and homes to abused or neglected children and, on the other, exposés of exploitation and negligence within that system.

Rarely has the experience of the young people caught up in the system been the focus of film making.

In this respect, however, Jay Paul Deratany and Youssef Delara's feature film FOSTER BOY (which I had the privilege of reviewing earlier this year at the Sedona International Film Festival) broke new ground with their profoundly moving drama about a young man victimized by the foster care system and a high-powered corporate attorney (superbly portrayed by Matthew Modine) who begrudgingly has been assigned to be his advocate.

Now, film maker (and two-time Emmy nominated actress) Cady McClain has raised the bar and filled the story-telling gap with BURNT FEATHERS, BROKEN WINGS, a beautifully crafted, emotionally stirring and eye-opening short documentary (11 minutes) that gives voice to the experiences of four girls within the system.

In reviewing two of McClain's earlier works (SEEING IS BELIEVING: WOMEN DIRECT, a documentary celebration of women artists, and BUTTERFLIES, a poignant anti-bullying allegory), I found myself inspired by a creative voice with a conscience, using her talents to advocate on behalf of those whose voices require a channel for expression. McClain keeps that spirit alive as director and co-producer of this film.

Jalynn Snyder, Aneles Maxwell-Carter, Madison Gates, and Katherine Belendez literally and figuratively unmask themselves to speak with unbridled authenticity and candor about the dysfunctions and addictions that led them to foster care. They accentuate their accounts (which they in fact have written) with a remarkable sense of themselves, the hurt they have endured, and the way others have perceived, if not pigeon-holed, them.

But ~ and this is where the trajectory of this film takes flight ~ the girls strike a new chord when they talk of their aspirations. It is in these following sequences that McClain delivers to us a work that defies the notion that kids in the system are or have to be lost lives.

As troubled as their lives have been, the girls' narratives reveal that there is yet a wind beneath their burnt feathers and damaged wings that has the power to carry them forward to the fulfillment of their dreams ~ whether it be as a social worker, lawyer, veterinarian, or member of the Coast Guard.

In the very telling of their stories, Jalynn, Aneles, Madison, and Katherine define themselves. And, in so doing, they are thus empowered. And we, the viewer, are enlightened and compelled to care.

It is worth noting that this achievement fits fully with the mission of the film's executive producer, Kids In The Spotlight, an organization created in 2009 that "provides a platform for foster care youth to tell their write, cast, and star in their own short films, from which springs a pathway for healing, growth, and viable employment opportunities."

No wonder that the film has resonated with audiences, winning major recognition for Best Screenplay, Best Ensemble, and Best Film at the 2019 KITS (Kids in the Spotlight) Awards; Best Social Justice Film at the Santa Fe Film Festival 2020; and Best Documentary Short at the Mystic Film Festival 2020.

Bottom line: Add BURNT FEATHERS, BROKEN WINGS to your list of must-sees.

Additional credits

Produced by Martin Russell Johnson, Tige Charity and Amanda Quinn Olivar

Executive Produced by Kids in the Spotlight

Writing: Katherine Belendez, Madison Gates, Jaqueline Romero Herrera, Aneles Maxwell-Carter

Cinematography: Genaro Marzan

Music: Cady McClain and Prentice Spry

Actors: Terri Brown-Jackson, Antonio D. Charity, Reggie Gaskins

BURNT FEATHERS, BROKEN WINGS is a Kids In The Spotlight production and can next be viewed in November 2020 at the See it End It Film Festival, an enterprise dedicated to end human trafficking.

Poster credit to Kids in the Spotlight

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