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Debutante – Short Film

A coming-of age drama about losing your religion, through the eyes of a teenage Jehovah’s Witness. Written & directed by Kamila Dydyna, a Polish actress & filmmaker based in Dublin.

COVID-19 UPDATE: click here.

Recent interviews with Kamila Dydyna:

Click here to read the interview in The Irish Times

Click here to listen to an interview on The Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio 1.

Click here to listen to an interview on the 2FM radio show with Louise McSharry.

As of 11th February 2020, we raised €17,535 towards our crowdfunding goal of €20,000 – a heartfelt thank you to the 270+ backers from 22 countries, who supported my film!

With the “flexible funding” option on Indiegogo, we keep the money raised and continue fundraising to reach the remaining 25% of the target. You can support the film through the PayPal account (no credit card required: click here.

Short Summary

My name is Kamila Dydyna and I’m a Polish filmmaker based in Dublin. I’ve wanted to make films for as long as I remember. 

When I was growing up though, I could have just as well wished to join NASA and visit the Moon. At the time, I was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community. My life revolved around regular preaching sessions, meetings with the congregation, studying the Bible and so on. Even dreaming about a career in anything else than being a stellar Jehovah’s Witness was, technically speaking, forbidden.

Fast forward about 25 years, multiple metaphorical earthquakes later, I clawed my way out of the religious fervour, through an adventure with corporate life, and into a freelance filmmaking world. I avoided talking about my past as a Jehovah’s Witness for many years after I had left the religion. I was ashamed, I felt like a victim, and I was angry. But now I’m at a point in my life where I realised I can’t walk away from that aspect of my past completely, at least not before making this film.

In the past few years, I made two short films (more on that later), and I’m now ready to tell the story of Debutante.

What is the film about?

Debutante is a short, contemporary drama set in the world of Irish Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a story of an 18-year-old Meg, who experiences, in a rather severe way, the overbearing religious control practiced by the members of this community. At its heart, it’s a film about growing up.

My intention with Debutante is to avoid a demeaning, hateful or sensationalist approach (as one often used with the subject of Jehovah’s Witnesses) in favour of one more compassionate. 

There are over 8.5 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world and they operate in exactly the same way in each of the 240 countries and territories where they live. As such, it felt natural to set this story in Dublin which has been my home for over 12 years now.

In the film, the exciting energy of young love and early experience of sexuality are met with the unforgiving and violating judgement by the religion elders. It’s a story of how receiving a mindf*ck of cognitive dissonance can shake loose the fundaments of who you think you are.

The title refers to the French origin of the word – “stepping out into the world for the first time” or being a beginner, a person that begins life as an adult.

What We Need & What You Get

I’m deeply committed to making the film happen. However, I’m just as committed to giving this story an opportunity to reach the quality it deserves, and for that purpose, I need money.

My experience as a director and as a production manager on award-winning short films, documentaries and commercials, has taught me that to truly realise a creative vision for the unique medium of film, money is just as critical as passion and talent of the creative team. Hence, with this campaign, it’s go big or go home.

Debutante’s budget is €20,000. While that may seem like a lot, it’s actually a very modest amount to produce a high quality short drama in Dublin. The budget amount covers:

1) FIVE SHOOTING DAYS

  • camera & lighting equipment rental
  • modest but reasonable pay rates for cast & crew
  • costume & set design
  • catering
  • location fees
  • insurance

2) POST-PRODUCTION

  • edit
  • sound mix 
  • colour grade
  • original music score
  • cost of clearing original composition rights to a certain very well-known piece of music, which plays a key part in the story (think more 1960s musicals, less Ed Sheeran 😉

3) FILM FESTIVAL ENTRY FEES

We will shoot the film in January/ February 2020, in time for summer start of the film’s festival journey. 

As with my previous films which reached wide audiences globally, my plan for Debutante is to reach as many film festivals as possible, as well as to have it broadcast on RTÉ and other TV networks globally, US cable network ShortsHD, and available for viewing on board of Aer Lingus transatlantic flights. To start with. 😉

In exchange for your much valued contributions, both big and small, we offer a wide range of perks, from digital downloads of the film, through blooper reels, signed copies of the script, set visits, associate and executive producer credits, premiere invitations and more! 

The Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is now closed, but you can still support the film through PayPal. Please mention in the note which perk you’d like.

Please note for any perks associated with physical presence in Dublin (set visits, film premiere etc.) no travel & accommodation costs are covered. Thanks for your understanding!

Why Support This Particular Film?

It is commonly thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses – and any issues surrounding them – are a minority subject, not necessarily warranting attention. Except, of course, the commonly known issues related to the refusal of blood transfusion and the protection of pedophiles within their ranks, highlighted recently by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse and a growing number of high profile court cases.

I think the negative impact Jehovah’s Witnesses have on the global community is even more widespread. Let me explain why.

My Mum started hanging out with Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was about 10 years old. I couldn’t tell you why and how but within a year, I was completely hooked on the world and the beliefs of this religion. A sense of belonging to something special and greater than me was so intense, it went to my head. 

Nobody made me do it – at the age of 13, I was thrilled to be baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness in a portable pool set at a sports stadium in Wrocław, Poland. I was wearing a long T-shirt over my swim suit, for modesty.

I used to believe that everyone who wasn’t a Witness was going to die an awful, ugly apocalyptic death. If I wasn’t conscientious and faithful in every little thing, I was going to die too. 

The worst lot of all – to be avoided at any cost – was to be disfellowshipped (shunned.) It meant that none of your Jehovah’s Witnesses friends (and family if they were strict enough) would ever speak to you again. They would cross the road if they saw you on the street. And you wouldn’t have anyone else to turn to because having“worldly friends” was also not on.

To be disfellowshipped meant that your world as you know it explodes and you become a ghost. You’re Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.

In early 2008, on the day I decided I no longer wanted to be a Jehovah’s Witness, I felt like I was dying to my life and relationships as I knew them. It was a bit like (I imagine) the experience of being born – naked, terrified, and disconnected from the only safe place you had known – except as an adult.

In 2018, the number of people baptised as Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world was 281,744. However, a statistic that’s harder to find is the number of people who got disfellowshipped (kicked out) or who left of their own initiative. That number is estimated at 70,000 – every year.

Taking into account those who return to the JW organisation, that’s still at least a million people in recent years who had to find ways of creating a life from scratch outside of the religion’s boundaries.

In best-case-scenarios, they deal with mental health issues resulting from a lifetime of indoctrination. They have to seek out new friends, relationships, careers and hobbies – all to keep it together outside of the JW world.

In worst-case-scenarios, they hang themselves in their bathrooms, while their children and spouses watch TV in the living room.

I deeply believe this is an issue worth talking about. And I hope my film will bring comfort to anyone who experienced shunning – for religious or other reasons. 

Film Crew Background

In early 2015, when I was shooting my first film, Testimony, I didn’t really have much of a clue what I was doing. I made it happen through obsessive perseverance. 

Testimony screened in festivals globally and was nominated for multiple awards, including:

  • IMDb’s New Filmmaker Award @ Bath Film Festival, UK
  • Best Director @ the BAFTA-qualifying Underwire Film Festival London
  • Best Screenplay & Rising Star Award @ Underground Cinema Awards, Dublin

My second short film, The Betrayal, featuring music by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, premiered at the prestigious GAZE International LGBT Film Festival in Dublin, and screened at festivals in Ireland and Canada.

Both films were broadcast on Irish national TV (RTÉ) and The Irish Times recently included The Betrayal on the list of the week’s best TV shows.

I’m also lucky – and grateful – to be surrounded by a wonderfully talented team on this project, including:

  • Barry Doyle, Director of Photography. Barry shot sci-fi pilot Risingcritically-acclaimed commercials for Focus Ireland (including I Can’t Sleep), music videos and multiple short films. He has extensive experience in various camera departments on productions including Game of Thrones, Handsome Devil, Taken Down, Dark Lies The Island, and Sweetness in the BellyClick on the video below for an example of Barry’s intricate, beautiful cinematography.
  • Niall Owens, 1st Assistant Director, with many years of experience on short & feature drama, including multi-award-winning Michael Inside and upcoming feature Here Are The Young Men by Eoin Macken. Niall is also an IFTA-nominated producer, writer and director.
  • Gwen Jeffares, Costume Designer. Gwen collaborated with me on two of my films: on Testimony (for which she received a Best Costume Design nomination at the Underground Cinema Awards, Ireland) and on The Betrayal. She has extensive experience on short & feature films, including the award-winning shorts Gridlock and Five Letters to the Stranger Who Will Dissect My Brain
  • Fiona Lanham, Script Supervisor. Fiona has experience on Irish feature films such as Rosie and Dark Lies The Island, as well as TV shows (Dead Still, Taken Down, Red Rock) and many short films.
  • Edwina Kelly, Make Up Artist. Edwina’s tremendous experience includes films like Calm With Horses (starring Barry Keoghan), Irish productions Taken DownBlack ’47 and The Lodgers, to name a few. Edwina also has extensive experience on commercials (including Guinness, Electric Ireland, Coca Cola, Nissan), and TV (The Mario Rosenstock Show). 

Risks & Challenges

The only risk that could prevent Debutante from being made is, well, raising no money. 

I’m 100% confident that with the team committed to this project and with my own experience, we will overcome any and all challenges, whether it’s a location dropping out last minute (been there!) or being asked for 20 revisions of a Risk Assessment a day before the shoot (also been there) or even dealing with a hurricane during the shoot (no joke, been there too.)

Our main challenge is funding – we cannot make this film happen without your support, and every little donation counts. 

If the subject matter resonates with you or you simply think Debutante is a film you’d want to watch, check out our perks and contribute today!

Other Ways You Can Help

Don’t underestimate the power of a simple share on social media or even through email or word of mouth.

Debutante is on Facebook and Twitter – follow the film for updates on the production!

If you know of groups, institutions, organisations, or journalists that might find this project interesting, please share the link with them too.

Thank you so much for reading.

Kamila Dydyna

4 Comments

  1. William Allen William Allen

    Just watched your interview. You are totally amazing. I am an ex/jw. from Texas. USA. I will be sending funds.

    • debutante debutante

      What a wonderful message on the first day of a new year – thanks so much William! 🙂

  2. Matt Hegarty Matt Hegarty

    Hi Kamila,

    I’m delighted you are doing this. I will contribute of course but also offer help if there is more i can do. I work in Dublin. I was JW from zero to 21 years old. Father was elder, then missionary in eastern europe, Estonia and Lithuania I am shunned also, had to start from zero.

    Good Luck with the Film!

    • debutante debutante

      Hi Matt, Thank you so much for your kind words and for your contribution! I’ll send you an email – I could definitely use help with finding suitable locations in Dublin at this stage of pre-production. 😉

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