Kaitlyn Boxall is a 21-year-old independent film director from Welling, UK. She has recently released a film called Behind Closed Doors, which has received international praise for its realistic portrayal of domestic violence. Kaitlyn is working to support female empowerment, and encourage women to speak out about their experiences with the support of the charity, Women’s Aid. We caught up with Kaitlyn to discuss her filmmaking during the production of the sequel, which will be given to a distribution company in partnership with Netflix.
Please note this article contains references to domestic abuse/violence.
Afternoon Delight: Our zine was created as a space to tell empowering stories because we believe in the power of shared experiences. We all have our own stories, whether they are important moments from our lives or fictional imaginings, and there is much to learn from hearing what we each have to say. Can you tell us about your journey into filmmaking and what brought you to pursue this career path?
Kaitlyn: I got my first ever camera when I turned 10 years old. Ever since I held my first camera, I felt an instant passion for it. I think it’s the aspect of being able to catch moments that will never happen again which has always meant a great deal to me. What motivates me about filmmaking is the creative and storytelling aspect. To have that creative control to convey a story through the eyes of a lens, expressing a storyline and having it play out on a screen is an amazing form self-expression aside from it just being a form of entertainment for viewers.
Afternoon Delight: The pandemic has seen a devastating increase in cases of domestic violence across the world. With the stay-at-home order of the lockdowns which began in March 2020, victims were left isolated in confined spaces with their abusers. In the UK, the domestic violence charity Refuge reported a 61% increase in demand for its helpline during the Covid-19 pandemic. Your latest film, Behind Closed Doors, covers domestic violence before and towards the outbreak of Covid-19. Could you introduce the film for those who haven’t yet seen it, and tell us how the story evolved?
Kaitlyn: The film explores the story of main character, Lisa Crawford, (portrayed by Holly Prentice) who is living through an abusive marriage until her best friend, Alison (Ellie Mulhern), refers her to a counsellor named Aaron, primarily known as Mr Smith, (Vasile Marin). Lisa, reluctant to the idea, finally accepts her need for a counsellor and arranges to secretly attend to Mr Smith’s appointments regularly. It’s not long until their professional relationship becomes a little more intimate than they anticipated. This storyline was one I had written up when I was about 15 years old, but I didn’t pursue it with my filmmaking at the time. I’ve always written little stories as I was always quite an imaginative child.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, I realised domestic abuse was also becoming a pandemic. Every human being in the world has been confined to their homes for months on end, and deaths were occurring from domestic outbreaks as well as from the virus. It felt important for me to use my knowledge and filmmaking to help raise awareness on domestic abuse, because it has not been addressed as much as it could have been. Also, domestic abuse is a big societal issue across the world as there is a large proportion of the population who are or who have experienced it. In order to convey this story and make it factually correct, my Mother was my main point of research, as she has been a victim of domestic abuse. The film carries personal segments, based on the characteristics of real people and true events.
Afternoon Delight: The film contains many personal segments, and it’s really empowering that you’ve taken a subject so close to you and turned it into a means to spread awareness. Could you tell us why it is so important for stories like Behind Closed Doors to be made? What messages do you hope audiences will take away from watching the film?
Kaitlyn: It is so important for stories like Behind Closed Doors to be made, because not only does it have the power to raise awareness, but these types of film can also educate a younger audience and create positive influence in terms of showing people what the signs are of abusive and controlling behaviour. Behind Closed Doors conveys one vital message which is also very powerfully narrated, and that is: “You have the power to change the ending.”
The film seeks to influence victims who are currently in abusive situations, encouraging them to seek help and change their endings. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help. The educational aspect of the storyline is shown in the counselling scenes, where Lisa’s counsellor tries to make her see the abuse she is experiencing. Her character lives in denial, so we do get to see that intense journey of her slowly coming to realisation but feeling shame to leave her husband due to pride.
Afternoon Delight: The production of Behind Closed Doors was created in collaboration with Women’s Aid, a charity working to provide life-saving services and build a future where domestic violence is not tolerated. Can you tell us about the charity’s involvement in the project?
Kaitlyn: Women’s Aid helped me to build up-to-date research of the current levels of domestic abuse. My Mother’s experience was 20 years ago, and there is a lot more help available now than back then. So much can be accessed and there are so many different ways to seek help confidentially. Knowing these aspects of today’s world and the charities, I wanted the film to be set in the modern day, and be relatable to a large audience so that families could relate to it. My intention has not been to base it on my Mother and I, because I wanted the film to hold that realistic portrayal of what it is like to marry into abuse and feel trapped with two children. My Mother was brave to escape my abusive father, and she made the choice to not put me through years of experiencing abuse.
I took true events of my mother’s experience and the insight I have had from listening to her talk about it, which has allowed Behind Closed Doors to pick up those personal segments of her experience, forming it into a story where everyone across the world can relate to it in one way or another. Women’s Aid not only was used as assisted research, but they have also been our supported charity that we have helped to raise donations for, through this production.
Afternoon Delight: Your filmmaking is raising awareness of domestic violence to help change and even save lives, but within the industry there have been many films glorifying sexual violence, coercion and abuse. Netflix’s 365 Days (2020) sparked widespread debate about the danger of romanticised depictions of abusive relationships when it was released last year. Should the film industry be held accountable for these kinds of films, which have the power to influence our perception and understanding of what this violence looks like?
Kaitlyn: As a filmmaker, I do have an understanding of creating a romantic twist in order to help a dramatic piece hook viewers in. There is a large audience who love a romance, regardless of how this romance is delivered. I myself love romantic dramas and I do have that insight as to how romance can create tension in a storyline.
However, I do think it’s very important to not glorify physical/mental abuse or abductions as a love story. You have to remember that films have the power to influence people, as well as act as a form of entertainment. You’re not just entertaining an audience, you are also influencing them – whether the intention is there or not, either way, at least one viewer is going to come away from that film and be somewhat influenced. A lot of young people can hold perceptions of life that stem from how a film can depict societal issues. This can be problematic, however, because many films are combining societal issues with sexual relationships between characters, and delivering them as a love story. This can then glorify things like abductions, abuse and stalking. This is concerning when younger viewers are consuming that kind of content and can go back into the world thinking that it is reality, when it is not.
Afternoon Delight: Behind Closed Doors has received international praise for its more realistic depiction of domestic abuse through the storyline. Could you tell us about this, and the interpretations of the film’s discourse?
Kaitlyn: Behind Closed Doors has a romantic element between Lisa and the counsellor, which can come across as quite controversial. There is a very clear meaning behind the tension between the two characters, as it is stressed that the counsellor witnessed his Mother’s abuse first-hand as a child. That being said, he feels empathy for Lisa, understands her as a person and he holds a need to help her in ways he could not help his mother. He tries to show her a life where there is no abuse and this in no way glorifies the abuse she is experiencing, as he attempts to encourage her in escaping her abusive marriage. This perception of a storyline gives the ‘correct’ type of influence for an audience, where a love story forms between the correct characters, and not between the victim and their abuser.
Behind Closed Doors can also be interpreted in other ways, such as counsellors being corrupt. Aaron, the counsellor, is seen overstepping his boundaries with Lisa, which possibly can be understood as taking advantage of a vulnerable woman. This is the controversial aspect that the film holds, but Aaron as a character is drawn to Lisa for meaningful reasons, in which is later on explored towards the end of the film.
With this in mind, an audience is able to understand Aaron more as a character and why he has so much interest in Lisa out of all his other patients. This is the strong element within the storyline, which has made the film so popular, because it takes us through that journey of a character being shown a normal life, where they can be shown real love, trust and empathy. This makes Behind Closed Doors a film which should be entered into with an open mind, and look at characters with a level of understanding without judgment from the very moment it begins. Because the journey of the storyline expresses a realistic perspective, without a glorifying tactic.
Afternoon Delight: You are working hard to encourage victims of domestic abuse to speak out. We’ve witnessed the power in this, most recently with the platform Everyone’s Invited, a movement to eradicate rape culture by sharing personal testimonies from students in schools and universities. Can you tell us about the response you’ve received for Behind Closed Doors, from the victims of domestic abuse who have come forward as a result of seeing the film?
Kaitlyn: Surprisingly, a lot of responses have been from other countries, where domestic abuse is (shockingly) regarded more as a normality, because the laws are different there compared to the UK. A lot of people have come forward talking about not just the abuse they have experienced themselves, but also individuals who have witnessed abuse between their parents, as a child. This made me realise afterwards how the film has become relatable in so many different ways, not just to victims themselves but also to witnesses who have had to see it first-hand as children. I think this makes the film so meaningful on a number of levels, and I did not expect it to get the attention it got.
Afternoon Delight: In discussing this, it is important to acknowledge that personal experiences of domestic violence can be incredibly difficult to talk about, and not all survivors want to share their story. For those who aren’t ready to speak out, or who don’t wish to, it is still valuable to read and hear other people’s stories. Did you ever find it difficult to initiate conversations with your Mother about her personal experiences, and write about a subject so close to you both?
Kaitlyn: It has without a doubt been shocking to hear my Mother’s experiences, but I have also found it challenging to bring those experiences to screen in the film. It has been important for me to show her experiences to viewers, and help the storyline come across as close to the reality of abuse as possible.
Afternoon Delight: You are now going into production with a sequel to Behind Closed Doors due to the international interest it gained, which will be given to a distribution company in partnership with Netflix. This is a major achievement which we look forward to following news of. As a filmmaker who has achieved success in a male-dominated industry, have you got any advice for other young women seeking careers in writing and filmmaking?
Kaitlyn: Never give up. Whatever your aspirations are in life, keep going and don’t take no for an answer. I like to think that it’s best to aim for the moon…because if you miss, you just might hit a star! So, aim high, and don’t be afraid to just go for it! Life is too short to live in fear or avoid risks. Take those risks and make the most of life, whilst being the best you can be.
Afternoon Delight: Covid-19 has changed the landscape of film production significantly, with many projects forced to be put on hold and unable to be screened in cinemas. Behind Closed Doors as well as your short film, Someone Like You, were originally released on your YouTube channel, Ginger Paradise Productions. What are your thoughts on the future of online streaming services as platforms to showcase films, and why did you choose to publish your films this way?
Kaitlyn: Since the rise of Covid-19, I have noticed more opportunities have become available to independent filmmakers. Cinemas have been shut, steering audiences to social media, which has increased exposure for independent film productions. It has been pretty much an online world for over a year due to lockdown, and this has become a massive advantage in terms of advertisement for small creators, who use social media to get their content across. I have always used social media to share my films, simply because this has been my way of learning about how to market, advertise and create self-exposure of my creativity. It has allowed me to network with many creators, and that is the positive side to the social media world.
Afternoon Delight: Finally, do you have any words you’d like to share to individuals who have faced events of domestic violence?
Kaitlyn: The rates of domestic abuse have spiked since the start of the pandemic, and it is horrific. My Mum was very proud of the film, but it was a hard watch for her. She wants to plead to every woman that you can get out of it! 20 years ago, there was very little help. She spent two years in a refuge, and today she now says, “To leave your house keys on the table, and go to a refuge is tough. To live a lifetime of abuse, where your children see you being beaten, is far, far worse.”
My Mother met many women during her time at the refuge. She is so thankful, although how hard it was, that I was only 3 weeks old. So, I, myself, do not hold any memories of those dark times. Many women in the refuge had older children who had already witnessed so much.
I pledge to any victims; do not let your children witness such horrific actions of violence! I understand it can be difficult, but a lifetime of abuse can be changed to a lifetime of happiness. You can do it! It is heart-breaking, as you probably still love your abuser, because they make it seem normal. You end up knowing no different. To all victims who are living domestic abuse, before lockdown and during, I promise you that there is hope! Material things do not matter, the big posh house, the out lookers looking in, thinking your life is perfect. The psychological affect is devastating. Get out, and do not be ashamed to ask for help. Peace of mind is invaluable. You CAN start again, and you WILL.
Interview by Afternoon Delight Zine
If you are affected by domestic abuse or know somebody who is, help is available now. Women’s Aid’s Survivor’s Handbook contains information on every aspect of seeking support. Other useful resource links are listed on their site here.