Death of a Child

Living with the guilt of your own child's death

Death of a Child Having a child die is the worst thing imaginable – but what if you are responsible? Just one moment of distraction, one lapse of concentration, can put a child’s life at risk. With a sympathetic and unobtrusive approach, this poignant doc explores the stories of parents who have undergone this trauma. Grappling with their own guilt, lengthy legal battles and the wrath of the public eye, these parents open up about their unthinkable tragedy.

"How can you leave a child in a car? How can you do that? How can you forget your child's in the car? And you know, and honestly, I don't know," Dianna explains, "But I do know it happens, because it happened to us." Dianna and Doug's daughter Kristen died after she was left in the car one morning. To this day they cannot understand how it happened - only that it did, and that it cannot be undone. "I started trying to remember what we did that morning, like what did we do different. And I couldn't remember it," Doug recalls.

Death by hyperthermia - overheating - was the cause of death and is the fate of 30 to 40 children annually in the States alone. What befalls parents afterwards is not only a lifetime of crippling guilt but fierce public backlash, lasting social stigma, and the threat of serious prison time. Doug was lucky in this last regard, escaping a sentence, but others are not.

Antonio moved to the US from Peru in search for a better life - something he has since regretted: "I wish I never came to America - none of this would have happened." His daughter Veronika died after he left her in the car for an hour. He now faces decades in prison and possible deportation. "I got sentenced to 20 years in prison. I would like the opportunity to go back to work and live a normal life but I'm facing deportation back to my country."

Even for those who escape sentences, the public reaction can be unrelenting. After the death of Norman's child he was constantly maligned by strangers: "there were news station buses outside, people calling my name from across the street and asking questions from across the street, how could you kill your son, pretty much video recording me everywhere I went" he relates. "They just made it really hard for my family and I to just grieve."

Public harassment affects not just the parents but those around them. After Chris' brother died, even as a child he found himself the constant focal point of criticism: "I experienced people's judgment after my brother passed away on a daily basis," he remembers. "Random kids would come up to me and be like, I can't believe that you don't hate your mom for what she did."

This chilling yet sensitive documentary delves into a taboo subject that is surrounded by societal misgiving. By challenging preconceptions, this is one film no one will easily forget.

LaurelNordisk Panorama – Official Selection
LaurelCPH:DOX – Official Selection
LaurelGiffoni Film Festival - Official Competition 2018
LaurelGöteborg Film Festival – Official Selection
LaurelInternational Human Rights Documentary Film Festival – Official Selection

The Producers

Frida Barkfors was born in Sweden in 1983. She has a degree in Film Directing at the National Film School of Denmark (2005-2009). Her first feature documentary, Pevert Park, 2014, together with Lasse Barkfors, won a Special Jury Prize for Impact at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and has been screened at over 30 festivals around the world. Her and Lasse Barkfors’ second feature documentary Death of a Child premieres in competition at Göteborg Film Festival in February 2017. Frida is currently working on her first fiction feature as well as the third documentary in the Barkfors’ trilogy on social stigma.

Lasse Barkfors was born in Denmark in 1980. He has a degree in Fine Arts from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (2007-2012). His first feature length film was Pevert Park, 2014, directed together with Frida Barkfors. His and Frida Barkfors’ second feature documentary Death of a Child premieres in competition at Göteborg Film Festival in February 2017. He has directed several short films, fiction and experimental. He is currently working on the third documentary in the Barkfors’ trilogy on social stigma, and is in post-production with his first feature fiction, which he has written, directed, filmed and edited.

Making The Film

Becoming parents a few years ago, we know what protective instincts and fears it awakens to have a child. We understand why judgment is passed on the parents that forget their own children in the car – because its every parent’s worst nightmare. But as filmmakers, we see it as our finest job to challenge this and depict society just as complex and difficult as it is. We strive to avoid any kind of sensationalism, focusing on making a humane portrait, to create understanding instead of judgment.

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