When Carolyn Wettstone began making a documentary on domestic violence, she thought she understood the issue.
However, in telling one family’s story, she confronted stereotypes, discovered hidden victims and learned that domestic violence is not a problem taking place in someone else’s backyard.
Wettstone is a familiar face in the Quad-Cities, having worked as an anchor at WHBF-TV4 and KWQC-TV6, the latter where her husband Terry Swails serves as chief meteorologist.
But Wettstone moved behind the camera and put her storytelling skills to use when she took the post at communications director at Family Resources, a Quad-City social service organization. Among other projects, she created a number of short films.
“I could bring stories to life for them,” she said.
Wettstone now is a freelance writer and videographer. But her four years of work with the Family Resources allowed a mutual trust to grow, she said, and the organization’s staff were comfortable with the idea of her filming her first full-length documentary.
Knowing how important it was to the organization that the location and clients of its domestic violence shelters remain confidential, Wettstone began the project by simply visiting the Davenport shelter and getting to know the families staying there.
By the end of May, she had formed a relationship with a family originally from Cedar Rapids. She decided to tell their story and the result is a 45-minute documentary called “Sheltering Kevin.”
Kevin is a 10-year-old who came to Davenport with his mother, Shannon, his older sister and two younger brothers. They sought to escape his mother’s abuser, a man who was her live-in partner and the children’s father figure, Wettstone said.
Wettstone said Shannon defies the stereotypes commonly associated with abused women.
“After you meet Shannon, it strikes you how intelligent, articulate and beautiful she is,” she said. “You realize you could very easily be in her position.”
But Wettstone was even more surprised by Kevin. She said it was heartbreaking for a child to be knowledgeable about such an issue.
“He’s so perceptive and aware of his situation,” she said. “It’s a reality a 10-year-old shouldn’t know about.”
Learning about Kevin made Wettstone aware of how children are impacted by domestic violence. She said that in most documentations – from 911 calls to police reports – it is not mentioned that children were involved or at the scene of an incident. The fact that they were never addressed prompted her to make them the focus of her film.
“They’re very much the silent victims,” she said.
Wettstone said that before making the documentary, she was naïve to think that once a family made it to the safety of a shelter, most of their problems were behind them.
“The truth is, it’s just the beginning of another ordeal for the children,” she said. “It just never stops for them.”
Children have to give up their homes, and sometimes their friends and schools, to move to a shelter. And once they arrive, they are forced to live by stricter rules than they ever had, Wettstone said.
Kevin, for instance, had to leave his Cedar Rapids friends behind, Wettstone said. And even though he befriended a boy at the Family Resources shelter, he had to say goodbye to him once his mother found a job and apartment and moved the family out of the facility.
But being able to move out makes the family a success story, Wettstone said. Often, women lack money, documents, transportation and other resources necessary to attain and keep a job, she said.
Once they’re out of the relative stability of the shelter, however, it can become more difficult for women to maintain their jobs and not return to their abusive relationships, Wettstone said.
“It’s even more difficult once you’re out on your own,” she said. “It’s not unusual for a woman to fall back into those old patterns.”
While facing challenges, Kevin’s family is doing great, Wettstone said. Shannon is working at a nursing facility and the children are excelling in school, she said.
“She’s fighting her demons for the best interest of her children,” she said.
Conveying a message
In creating the documentary, Wettstone’s greatest fear was that she wouldn’t do justice to Kevin’s position and the family’s story.
“I was truly afraid I wouldn’t be able to give them the platform they deserve,” she said.
However, she is pleased with how the film turned out, especially due to special music she was able to include. Local musicians Ellis Kell and Andrew Landers created and performed an original song, “You Can’t Hurt Me Now,” free of charge for the project, she said.
“They just caught the essence of Kevin’s experience in this song,” she said.
“Sheltering Kevin” will be shown Oct. 23 at the IMAX Theatre at the Putnam Museum. The 5:30 p.m. showing is part of Family Resources’ annual meeting, but the public is invited and encouraged to attend, Wettstone said.
Wettstone hopes the film drives home the idea that domestic violence affects children and happens everywhere – even in the Quad-Cities. It is her goal that the documentary will serve as an awareness and educational tool to trigger viewers to help families in need.
“I certainly hope they walk away wanting to help,” she said. “There are plenty of different ways and hopefully they feel compelled to do it. I know Shannon and Kevin would appreciate it.”
If you go
What: “Sheltering Kevin”
When: 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23
Where: IMAX Theatre, Putnam Museum, 1717 W. 12th St.,Davenport
How much: Free
Information: (563) 324-1933
Katie Vaughn can be contacted at (563) 383-2282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.