Synopsis: American Sex Offender is an ambitious, groundbreaking, and unprecedented feature-length documentary film that reveals the untold story of hundreds of thousands of America’s most shunned social outcasts: registered “sex offenders”. By creatively interweaving the human stories of real registrants, expert commentary on America’s unjust and inefficient laws, the filmmaker’s personal story, and shocking cases of punishments that don’t fit the crime; the film challenges the fairness and usefulness of the country’s contemporary sex offender laws and registration systems.
Story: Like lepers of biblical times and ‘witches’ of 17th century Salem, registered sex offenders are the most despised and shunned social outcasts in America today. The picture that the “sex offender” label paints in the mind of the average citizen, however, is often worlds apart from the reality of what the person has actually done. High-profile child murder tragedies and fear-based media sensationalism have led to undeserved stigma, unfairly cruel punishments, and even reactionary violence against people who never (a) touched or raped anyone, (b) posed any kind of threat to public safety, or (c) fit the typical characterization of a child predator, sociopathic deviant, or violent rapist. American Sex Offender portrays multiple sides of the controversy through interviews with registered sex offenders and their families, victims of sexual abuse, probation officers, legal experts, politicians, activists, psychologists, human sexuality experts, and more. Proponents of the current system argue that it keeps families and children safe by informing the public about dangerous predators. Opponents argue that it fails to distinguish between those who pose an actual threat to society – and the majority who do not. An autobiographical element is woven into the story by filmmaker Kevin Scott Foley, who is himself a registered “sex offender”. He presents the objective facts of his case, describes the setbacks the registry has caused in his personal life, and leaves it to the viewer to make their own conclusions about whether his punishment fit his crime.
- Shot on digital Canon DSLR equipment in simple one and two-camera shoots.
- Interviews are interspersed with cinema verite-style footage of registrants in humanizing environments: home, family, and work settings.
- Filmmaker speaks to the camera/audience as a “host” of the film.
- Minimal production enhancements or effects are used, giving the film a “raw footage” feel.
- Most of the film utilizes interview dialogue and natural sound of events such as conferences, support groups, community meetings, and character interactions.
- Some light ambient music beds with a neutral mood accompany appropriate scenes.
The film’s mood flows between serious, somber, challenging, funny, and poignant.
About the Filmmaker:
Kevin Scott Foley worked in television as an on-air promotion producer and creative storyteller in visual media for 8 years out of college. He developed extensive skills in story creation and development, storyboarding, shooting, directing, editing, budgeting, scheduling, and overall project and crew management. He has wanted to produce a documentary film since he first picked up a camera, and this is his first film. Kevin has been required to register as a “sex offender” since 2000 for having two consensual sexual liaisons with a 15-year-old female when he was 19. He successfully completed five years of “sex offender” probation in 2005, and is required to continue to appear on the public registry until 2015. Through American Sex Offender, Kevin wants to catalyze change in the system by making the multifaceted truth of this story known. More importantly, he wants to use his own journey from shame and self-doubt to personal power and self-acceptance to inspire anyone with a difficult past to believe in the possibility of change, recovery, and growth.
- Janice Bellucci, civil rights attorney and head of California’s Reform Sex Offender Laws advocacy group.
- Nancy Irwin, PsyD., sex abuse therapist, author, sexual abuse survivor, and advocate of recovery for sexual abusers.
- Several registrants have already volunteered to tell their stories.
Potential characters and film elements:
- Human story vignettes of registered sex offenders’ lives are shown in major cities around the US. A wide variety of registrants are shown: Rich, poor, family men, those who live alone, female registrants, registrants of all ethnicities, those with major offenses, and those with relatively minor ones.
- The filmmaker goes back to the city where his story happened and explains the facts of what transpired.
- The filmmaker stages “social experiments” designed to educate the public on the issue, such as a filmed blind date between a young male registrant with a minor “sex offense” and his unsuspecting date. He reveals his criminal history to her, and explains what she would have to go through if they were to eventually date seriously, have children, or even marry.
- Family members talk about how a loved one’s legal requirements affect their lives.
- Loved ones of a young registrant who committed suicide over his sentence tell his story.
- Experts explain the requirements that registrants have to live under: curfews, fees, living situation requirements which are extremely difficult to meet, restrictions from certain jobs, mandated group therapy, the requirement of posting signs which lead to public humiliation, restriction from internet access, and much more.
- Bizarre cases are told of people who have been put on sex offender registries, such as: teenagers who texted nude pictures of themselves to their girl/boyfriends, young adult pranksters who went ‘streaking’ or ‘mooning’, people who ended up in happy marriages with their ‘victims’, people who were caught urinating in public, etc.
- Street interviews give a glimpse of public opinion on the issue as people answer questions like “Who is a child predator?”, “What makes someone a sex offender?”, and “How do sex offender registries serve the public?”
- Short clips of TV news reports reveal the ‘scare tactics’ and sensationalism often attached to the issue.
- Victims of sex crimes talk about the trauma they have been caused, and answer what they think about the probation and registration systems.
- Activists talk about what events lead to their passion about the issue, and how they are fighting for change.
- Probation officers and politicians talk about the purpose of sex offender and registration laws and describe how these benefit society.
- Therapists and human sexuality experts talk about the nature of sexual attraction, why it is focused toward prepubescent children and/or violence in some people, the best ways to treat this problem, and whether a punitive or rehabilitative approach is best.
- Legal experts answer questions about what kinds of sex offense crimes happen the most, how those who are accused deal with it, whether the registry system is a deterrent to re-offending, discuss the recidivism rate, and offer other interesting statistics.