Filmmakers Susan and Alan Raymond Share What Attracts Them to Social Issue Documentaries
The filmmakers discuss the responsibility to help people better understand the world in which they live.
HBO: As filmmakers, what attracts you to social issue documentaries?
Susan Raymond: I discovered when we made I Am a Promise that all of a sudden making a social issue documentary was fun. You have to like children to make these films. And because education should be considered one of the most important issues in America, equal to taxes, the war, health care, it should be right up at the top, it?s so important. We are not educating our young people properly. And if we?re not giving them the skills, what?s going to happen to our country? So it?s extraordinarily important.
Alan Raymond: I think we?ve always wanted to do serious social issue documentaries, whether it?s exploring middle class family dynamics, or educational issues, or when we did the effects of warfare on children. For us that's the reason to be documentary filmmakers is to hold up a mirror to society and hopefully help people understand a little better the world that they live, and maybe even offer some insight into the problems that people are struggling with.
We hope parents will see this film, and if they have a child who?s struggling in school, maybe think of trying to get their child tested. We want teachers to see this film and look at it and say, wait a minute, maybe that kid in the back of the room who seems smart in so many ways, but can?t seem to spell simple words, possibly has a learning disability. We also want adults who maybe have gone through life feeling depressed about their abilities in certain areas to look at this film and have an ah-ha moment and say, wait a minute, maybe that?s my problem. The true value of making documentaries is epitomized in a film like this where you really can help people.
HBO: Coupled with that is the stigma from a public that doesn?t understand dyslexia.
Susan Raymond: Well the stigma seems to be one of the saddest things about it, because people believe if you can?t read, you?re stupid. And people with untreated dyslexia have difficulty reading. So that?s where the stigma comes in.
Alan Raymond: And dyslexic persons can?t spell either. So that?s also part of it.
Susan Raymond: So the misconception is that you?re stupid. And they?re equating reading and spelling with your intelligence, which is not true. For the dyslexic person, if you can?t read, it means you have a neuro-biological language deficiency that is probably genetic. It runs in families. And you have to get the proper amount of instruction, and then you can read. But unfortunately, many students go through school for years before it?s identified.
Alan Raymond: The sort of wait to fail model.
Susan Raymond: They keep saying, oh, they?re immature. Give them a little more time. And that is very, very destructive to an individual. The child has to go to school and keep falling behind their peers, and they don?t know why. So they think they?re stupid. Then their self esteem goes downhill rapidly, and that leads to other problems. Some implode, some explode.
Alan Raymond: There are widespread misconceptions. All the recent studies and polls that have been conducted reveal that the general public, including in that group by the way, schoolteachers, have very little understanding of what dyslexia is. Most people think it?s a mental illness, which it?s not. They often lump it together with autism. But the other thing is that there?s an upside to dyslexia. It's a very interesting phenomenon. So while, for kids in school through their entire schooling, it can cause tremendous problems that we don?t want to, in any way, minimize, for many adults, it can also be a gift. There is that phrase, ?the gift of dyslexia.? Because, on the one hand, you have this negative connotation, but on the other hand, you have this belief by some people that this different form of brain structure and thinking can lead to innovation and creativity.
Susan Raymond: And what?s hopeful for parents is that even though you may have a struggling third grader, you have to realize that child is going to develop a strength, there?s going to be something that that child is going to be very, very talented in.
Alan Raymond: Society would be much poorer without people who think differently, as dyslexic people do.
Susan Raymond: There?s a whole list of extraordinary people who are dyslexic, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Pablo Picasso, among others. It?s a fairly accepted idea that this different form of brain organization and thinking is very innovative and visionary and creative.