Film screening and panel discussion of Study of Religion alum Erin McMichael’s How They See Me (Without Seeing Me)
Wednesday October 19th, 6:00 p.m., Emmanuel College, Room 119, 75 Queen’s Park Crescent.
Panel respondents: Pamela Klassen (Study of Religion), Angelica Fenner (Cinema Studies), and Judith Newman (Emmanuel College/Study of Religion).
How They See Me (Without Seeing Me) is a 30 minute documentary short about “Beth”, an 18 year old Jehovah’s Witness who – three weeks after waking from a coma – was “disfellowshipped” by her congregational Elders, a process which prevents her family, friends and community from speaking to her. How They See Me documents a formally coded shaming process that has historically been either concealed or misrepresented by those who enforce it. Because of the invisibility of disfellowshipping practices within the wider culture, the severity of the social, emotional, and psychological consequences among those affected remains uncharted. By presenting Beth’s recounted memories, the film documents states of interiority particular to the shunned alongside related themes of trauma, shame, testimony, and (in)visibility. Beth’s willingness to recount her experience challenges the coercive logic behind the practice of disfellowshipping. In sharing her story she offers a corrective reading of the status that has been imposed upon her and thousands of others.
Erin McMichael is a Toronto-based filmmaker. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto, graduating with distinction in 2003, having completed a double major in Cultural Anthropology and Study of Religion. In July 2011 McMichael screened How They See Me and presented an academic paper concerning fellowship practices at the Universitat de Barcelona as part of the International Cultic Studies Association’s annual cofnerence. This fall, she will defend her thesis in completion of her M.F.A. in Ryerson’s Documentary Media program. She is currently working on a feature film about religious shunning practices.
“Years ago I enrolled as a Study of Religion student in order to understand the history of Christianity itself, to explore gendered issues particular to patriarchal religious traditions and ultimately, to re-frame my own experiences being raised within a Jehovah’s Witness community. In addition to learning how to conduct research and to think critically, my Study of Religion major provided me with the resources that I needed in order to re-contextualize my own personal experiences and religious history. Years afterward, I found that I still had a desire to continue examining these issues but in a form that was more overtly expressive and in-line with my own creative inclinations. When I discovered three years ago that Ryerson University’s new Documentary Media Master of Fine Arts program accepted liberal arts graduates such as myself, I decided to enroll and create a filmic thesis project about these concerns. I’m now preparing to defend my M.F.A., and am working on a feature documentary about shunning practices among Western religious traditions including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Fundamentalist Mormon, Anabaptist, Scientology, Plymouth Brethren and Hasidic communities.”