ART THERAPY | Zhi-Min Hu
An open letter to an Abusive Father
Sophie’s Letter was born as art therapy for both Anik St-Louis and myself. The first time I met Anik, in a causal casting session that took place in a café, I told her that I had no script, only a poem. After reading it, Anik gave me a firm “YES!”. It turned out that my story is very similar to hers.
Back to 2010, when I was pregnant with my first child, I had a great fear that I might pass the family violence that I grew up with to another innocent life. In order to break the chain, I decided to revisit my past, therapeutically searching for and consoling my wounded inner child. The path was very difficult and painful, as many repressed memories were once again unearthed. I spent three months writing a 30-page letter to my father, the first time that I had confronted him in my life. I sent a copy to both my mother and my sister, both of whom were also being abused. Everyone was shocked, but remained silent. A new me was born after that.
I turned my anger into positive energy. I decided to make Sophie’s Letter, a film that I hoped would inspire those who have shared the same experience to free themselves from their trauma and to live again. The first draft of the poem poured out of me in a stream of consciousness. Within a month, I had set up the production team and locations for the shooting with a zero dollar budget. No one in my production team asked for a salary. My DOP offered his own gear; a close friend donated his home as a location; every one of my actors volunteered their time!
Anik is a professional opera singer with beautiful voice. She gives an incredible performance in Sophie’s Letter and also provided both voiceover and singing talent. During the letter-writing scene, I guided her as a director and therapist to draw out her emotions. She finally cried it out. It was a powerful and transitional moment. Her tears represent relief and release, not sadness.
I spent another two years completing the shooting. Guided by my subconscious mind, I reproduced scenes and images from my dreams. I am thankful to my husband, David, who supported me morally and was actively enrolled in the project. He used his creativity to help me achieve the images that I desired. Even my baby boy helped in one scene. During this period, we often carried a camera and heavy tripod, filming the outdoor B-roll while pushing a baby carriage. We are a very productive team.
Due to my deep emotional bond with the story told in Sophie’s Letter, post-production work took a long time to complete. I developed many different versions and re-started my editing over and over. Finally, at the end of 2014 my mission was complete. I would like to thank the Prim Center, who selected my project and supported me during post-production.
Sophie’s Letter is an experimental, surrealistic, and straight forward narrative. It represents a style that is hard to put a label on. I trust the audience and offer them a chance to develop different interpretations of the story. There is no one absolute answer, maybe two, perhaps many.
On the film set, Anik asked me if I was making a film of her story. Indeed, Sophie’s Letter illustrates both of our stories, perhaps yours, hers, or his. I hope that this film inspires victims of family violence to seek effective therapy so that they can finally be released from their lifelong darkness. For others, I hope that this film provides an understanding of the difficulties faced by victims and that this understanding leads to empathy and support.
When you watch Sophie’s Letter, please make sure to finish viewing the credits, because everyone on the list put their soul, mind, and heart into this film. All of them deserve to be remembered.
Here are the parts of the poem that appear in the film:
By Zhi-Min Hu
It hurts me to see your anger, Dad,
But I am not your punching bag,
I'm not prefect and I'm flawed,
Just cause I'm not a son.
You kill our love with your fists,
Along with my respect and my dignity,
My sanity and my self-esteem,
are buried under toxic shame.
You said, you love me, but you dumped me like trash,
You took the fast train and left me behind,
That year I was only one,
Mother went crazy and aborted a child.
The year I returned I was almost three,
My cousin thought we were playing ball,
No, no. no, I was the ball rolling all over the floor,
Never forget your strong giant feet,
Brutally kicking my tiny bones.
I was cute like other kids and I was pretty as other girls,
Why did I take the blame for things that I didn't even know?
You said, that's the way of love,
You said that's because you care about me,
You even told me I'm your favorite child!
How many days and how many nights,
I have been trapped in a big black box,
Can you hear my weeping and my prayers?
Can you see tracks of my tears?
When night falls, my heart drops,
So much fear to step through the door,
Who knows what tonight's show is?
Behind that door, a monster dwells.
You smile at our neighbors,
You shake hands with my teachers,
Who could ever imagine your glare behind the door?
Cold as ice, sharp as a knife,
Your ugly, pathetic, hateful face,
Like the demon howling in my nightmare!
Anger burns me deep inside,
It strikes me hard in the empty night,
There is no tomorrow, there is no today,
I'm trapped in the darkness, a black hole.
Dad, I need to tell you all,
How I grew up, what I've been through,
Fear and pain through the years,
Time to release, to redeem,
Cause, I still hope for peace.
Written by Zhi-Min Hu, producer, writer, director & editor of Sophie’s Letter.