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Tone Grøttjord-Glenne • Director of All That I Am

“Abused children don’t have a language for it”


- We talked to Tone Grøttjord-Glenne, the director of All That I Am, detailing the story of a sexual abuse survivor as well as her fight to be heard

Tone Grøttjord-Glenne  • Director of All That I Am
(© Stine Østby)

In All That I Am [+see also:
interview: Tone Grøttjord-Glenne
film profile
, currently screening at Canada’s Hot Docs, Tone Grøttjord-Glenne gives a voice to Emilie, repeatedly raped by her stepfather from the age of six. Now 18 years old, she returns to her family home after years in the foster-care system, determined that, despite all that has happened, she doesn’t want to hide any more.

Cineuropa: When presenting the project a year ago, still as a work in progress, you mentioned Emilie’s desire to be the voice for young people. Was that always the case?
Tone Grøttjord-Glenne: I wanted to make a film about child abuse, to contribute to making a change. But first I needed to find someone, and I wanted it to be a young person. In so many cases, the victims need years before they are ready to talk. I contacted the Norwegian police department, and they directed me to the Barnahuset - Children's Assessment Center. They agreed that with the right person, it could be very empowering. When we met, Emilie had just turned 18. I knew that she had moved back in with her mother and that it was a vulnerable relationship, having been apart for so long. She really wanted to tell her story.

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You show her learning how to talk about her experience. Given that it started so early, she didn’t know how to articulate it at first.
I discovered that it’s really common: children don’t have a language for it. They don’t know it’s not normal. Emilie felt it was wrong, but she understood what was happening when she was 12, during a sex education class. She felt that her voice wasn’t being heard: not in her family, not in school. We had very few shooting days, just 28 over the course of two years, so sometimes I would go there a day before, just to spend time with her, and then we would film for one hour. I didn’t want her to feel like I was just taking something. But when it comes to the actual talking, it wasn’t something she knew how to do, and neither did I. Her mother was reluctant, too, so it was more about being there and observing. I didn’t ask her about the abuse. It didn’t feel right.

Is that why you included the audio recording of the police interview instead?
We ended up using it towards the end of the editing, realising that people need to understand why it’s so difficult for her to live her everyday life. You needed to be reminded of what she has been through. You learn about the court case, follow her to the meetings, and you get a sense that she is struggling. It lives inside her head all the time.

There was a plan to start a campaign alongside the film. Is it still going on?
We created a social-impact campaign that we have been working on for a year and a half. The film follows Emilie from 18 to 20, but I talked to many people who have been important to her. Her teacher felt bad that she never asked if something was wrong. She said: “I didn’t have the tools to understand.” That was the first element. We created a digital tool for teachers to glean more knowledge about sexual abuse: how to discover it, how to talk to students. We based it on her time in the elementary school, just before she reported it. We launched it in March, and then the coronavirus came, but we introduced it to about 2,000 people, and it became part of the curriculum in some universities. The other part of the campaign was a cinema launch in Norway, and now, we are offering it via our platform. For Emilie and her family, when you are in a film like that and get national exposure, then at least you know you are making a difference.

She says: “We need to realise there is a film coming out of it.” Were you worried about all this attention?
It was what she wanted. But my responsibility, together with the producer, went beyond that. Because she may have wanted it, but could she handle it? Would it be empowering, or would it feel wrong? We were giving her space to talk about the project with other people, but they all wanted to go ahead. We saw the film together and then waited for one year. It was important to move very slowly.

You decided not to show the perpetrator. He is just mentioned in their conversations or in court, when her mother tells her not to look at him.
We got his permission to film the court case – he didn’t want to be shown. But most of all, I didn’t want him to be a part of it. I wanted Emilie to love this film, be proud of it and not have to look at his face. I wanted her to have the choice of going to screenings and loving it. He is still there, with her being afraid of him sitting in the courtroom, of running into him on the street. Even this absence is scary.


You can find more information about the campaign that Grøttjord-Glenne mentions here.

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