FSU documentary shines light on torture through voices of survivors

Thanks to a coalition of torture survivors who finally dare to speak out, a remarkable film collaboration by Florida State University’s renowned Center for the Advancement of Human Rights and award-winning College of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts means to shatter the silence that shields the practice of torture and its terrible toll.

A special screening of "Breaking the Silence: Torture Survivors Speak Out"—filmed and edited entirely by FSU film students—begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, in the Askew Student Life Center (942 Learning Way) on the FSU campus. Admission is free and open to the public; seating is first-come, first-served. A panel discussion will follow the hour-long documentary. Panelists will include Sister Dianna Ortiz, founder and director of Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC), as well as a group of fellow survivors.

Terry Coonan and Valliere Richard Auzenne also will be on hand for the screening. Coonan, the executive director of FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, co-directed and co-produced "Breaking the Silence" with Auzenne, an associate professor at FSU’s College of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts—best known as The Film School.

‘Breaking the Silence’ is based on more than 40 interviews conducted by Coonan and Auzenne with members of TASSC—survivors of torture from around the world. Throughout the film, the survivors recount both their torture and the emotional healing begun through TASSC, a unique organization founded by and for people who have experienced torture.

"Shame is such a major issue for torture survivors," Auzenne said. "That, and the fear of retribution toward oneself or one’s family, and the belief, instilled by the torturers, that no one would believe them, results in the silence that characterizes the response of most survivors."

In 2006, Coonan—a lawyer and FSU professor internationally recognized for his human rights advocacy and the FSU center he helped establish—contacted Sister Dianna to ask simply, "How can we help you?" He offered TASSC access to FSU’s substantial human rights and film resources. The result—"Breaking the Silence"—is meant to not only support the torture survivors who make up TASSC but also to better illuminate the harsh realities of torture itself.

Coonan and Auzenne believe that audiences at film festivals will welcome the emotional film, which helps to lift the shroud on torture both around the world and now close to home. The FSU filmmakers will offer the documentary to human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which sponsor their own traveling film festivals, and also hope to engage public television stations.

The FSU project took full advantage of the wealth of talent at the Film School, said Auzenne. Film School credits go to "Breaking the Silence" co-producer Eric Leong (Master of Fine Arts, 2006), who also had a hand in the cinematography; cinematographer Ericka Bagnarello Arguello (M.F.A., 2006); editor and sound designer Jacob Huberman (M.F.A., 2006); colorist Douglas Interrante (Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film, 2006); and sound recordists Gaea Denker-Lehrman (M.F.A., 2006; Writing Program, Film School) and Sharon Jacobs (M.F.A., 2006).

In other FSU realms, Richard Zarou, a doctoral student from the College of Music, composed the documentary’s original score. Steve Breerwood (M.F.A., Studio Art, 2006), a former adjunct instructor in the art department, part of the College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance, crafted its original artwork.

After members of TASSC viewed the finished film, recalled Coonan, "They literally embraced the students, declaring that finally, someone had given them a voice."

For more information about TASSC (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International), visit the Web site at www.tassc.org.

The FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights is an interdisciplinary endeavor established in 2000 to facilitate the development of human rights-related courses and scholarship throughout the university; establish human rights field placements for FSU students; and support non-governmental organizations worldwide that engage in human rights work. Visit www.cahr.fsu.edu.

FSU’s College of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts—The Film School—has been recognized by The Directors Guild of America for its distinguished contribution to American culture. Learn more at film.fsu.edu.

For additional information on "Breaking the Silence: Torture Survivors Speak Out" and the 7:30 p.m. screening on Tuesday, Oct. 2, contact the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at (850) 644-4550; The Film School at (850) 645-4840; or the Student Life Cinema at (850) 644-4455.