October 25, 2016

Reclaiming His Voice

This week, in James's final post, he shares about how his personal healing journey expanded into a global filmic odyssey, attempting to illustrate that child sex abuse is a local problem everywhere on the planet.

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From the moment I made a 33-year overdue police report in 2011, self-documenting my recovery has been an integral part of healing. The process of self-witnessing has been more than a powerful balm. It has become a place to focus my energy and talent and frankly, a great way to reinvent myself.

Making Picking Trauma’s Pocket has been a great reason to invite myself into places I’m not sure I would have gone otherwise. To date, I have filmed across Canada, the US, Guyana, Bolivia (twice) and Taiwan. January will see me in Ghana and by the end of 2017, visits to Australia plus Europe will complete the picture. 

In addition to a multitude of child sex abuse survivors, many experts have also generously given their time for interviews. Bessel van der Kolk, author of the best selling Body Keeps the Score, Richard Tedeschi, who coined the term Post Traumatic Growth and Richard Schwartz, originator of Internal Family Systems therapy are representative of the scope of the film in science, spirit, academia and therapy. Picking Trauma’s Pocket begins where most other films on child sex abuse end: healing. 

Part of the lingering harm I experienced from sexual trauma in childhood left me with a powerful shut down reflex. Every time I had an inspired thought, or took action to express my creativity, especially through music, it would be immediately be followed by a harsh counter action/thought: STOP! I know now that the reason for it is because one part of me is trying to protect myself. That the root of it exists because as a child I was further harmed for defending myself against injustice. 

And as I grew up, it was only further complicated by hyper-vigilance (*easily mistaken for ADD/ADHD). Between the two, there have been many occasions where crossing the room to get a pen resulted in a trip around the block.  Difficulty following through on my intentions became a hallmark of my lived experience. I eventually formed the opinion that I was a flawed person. 

In 2012, I met Arthur Lockhart, founder of the Gatehouse (see blog episode 1) and a short film, Illuminating Silence was born. 

It features many courageous people, some for the first time, sharing stories of hardship and recovery. Struck by the similarity between my experiences of struggle and all of the people in the film, I began to wonder about the scope and scale of the problem of child sex abuse.

Finally recognizing that my profound life challenges were resultant from crimes committed against my most vulnerable child self, I began talking openly pretty much everywhere I went. One woman I worked with mentioned that she knew of a similar agency to the Gatehouse, but in Guyana. Lockhart’s first reaction on learning this was to set up a meeting and include another woman from Ghana. 

That meeting concluded with the formation of the Gatehouse Network International, to connect organizations around the planet that support child sex abuse survivors. The only logical next step was to forward relationships the best way I know how. In person. 

The reasons why sexual trauma is so difficult to verbalize are complex. Yes, it does take courage and yes, shame is a barrier, but there is also science, validated by brain scan technology, to support the very real obstacles. This is why the names of so many organizations working with survivors have Voice in their name: because, to reclaim Voice is not simply evidence of healing. It is an act of emancipation. In my opinion, the burden of living with child sex abuse is like combining the struggles of Hellen Keller with Nelson Mandela.

I’ve read that trauma is like Medusa in that taking it on directly is unwise (Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger). Trauma is a treacherous thief and liar. It leaves survivors with unanswerable questions, such as “why did this happen to me?” and vicious untruths such as, “it was my fault”. To slay it requires indirect approaches. And that is why it has been especially rewarding to pursue imagery from my surroundings that are representative of both my struggles and my release. 

met·a·phor
ˈmedəˌfôr,ˈmedəˌfər/      
definition: a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.

In making Picking Trauma’s Pocket, a child-like wonder about the world has engulfed me. Ever looking more closely, I am lucky to live in an age where the tools available match my passion. Using a range of lenses from consumer level macro close-ups all the way to sophisticated near microscopic, I have captured scenes of frost melting, the life cycle of baby spiders leaving the nest, an adult
spider battling to devour a beetle, baby squirrels born into captivity, escaping through a one way trap door. I have filmed the stars passing through the night sky. And one of the most memorable moments was shortly after reading Levine’s book about somatic healing. A bird flew into my window and lay stunned. I filmed it for a full hour as it went through all of the stages of trauma recovery and then flew away. 

My journey of recovery has been an expansive one of looking both deeply inwards and as far outwards as I can, all at the same time. I still suffer. But the gifts I’ve worked so hard to polish are worth the effort.

Voice is more than words. For me it includes my work in filmmaking. In the making of my next project, Picking Trauma’s Pocket, I give birth to my own voice. This journey is about nothing less than emancipation. And I want you to be my witness.


You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign until November 10, 2016. 


Go here to support this amazing project: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm



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James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.


Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

October 19, 2016

Out of the Grip and Into the Driver Seat

This week, James shares with us his up and down journey as a filmmaker and how this has led him to today, creating a film that chronicles his own story of abuse.

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Welcome to my third post for the Rachel Grant blog. If you’re joining this conversation now, previously I discussed coming into awareness at age 45 about the sexual abuse experienced as a child and then how I turned a three-decade struggle around.

At age 15, I saw a film called Fanny and Alexander by the prolific Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and felt a powerful call to the film business. It’s the only profession I’ve ever had and becoming a director was the coveted goal. As I grew up, opportunities opened up in front of me everywhere I went. 

I made my first film in middle school. The second came during a summer program. An introduction to critical analysis by a high school media teacher blew my mind. I spent four years gaining a double degree in film production and screenwriting at a university acclaimed for filmmaking. 

Eager to excel, I scraped my way into the industry between my second and third years. By the time I graduated, I had successfully established myself at the very bottom of the industry. My days as a Production Assistant started before everyone else and finished last. I was driving my own car picking up directors and actors, then working with the technical crew and making $50 a day. I felt lucky on the days they remembered to reimburse me for gas. The environment was brutally stressful and blossoming with all kinds of abuse. Alcohol, drugs, unpredictable explosive anger, sleep deprivation. I felt at home. (*Parents, be wary: things haven’t changed. The film industry is notorious. If your child goes in this direction, stay vigilant)

Being an athlete in high school left me well equipped to become a grip. You want a scaffold around that house? Sure, no problem. You want it up to or above the eves? Gassing 5-ton trucks at 14 left me with confidence around vehicles. Grips also operate camera dollies and cranes. They are the cowboys of the industry and most social rules don’t apply because they know they are needed. I was in heaven. 

Ten years later, I could look back on what most people would call an enviable life. I had worked with stars and future stars on movies, tv shows, rock videos and commercials across Canada and in New Zealand. After a year down under, I turned down an offer to stay and returned home to resume my long delayed passion to direct. Many of my crew-mates went on to work on Lord of the Rings.


I began using filmmaking as a tool to heal in 1988. Learning the Hard Way was a school project where I documented the first conversation with my parents about my brother Mark’s suicide eleven years prior. Still gripped by unresolved grief, I struck out to make my first professional drama and help myself at the same time. I managed to convince our national broadcaster, CBC, to commit some money in advance (very rare for a first-timer) and The Stone Skipper was born in 1999. It is a story about a family in the aftermath of a suicide, through the eyes of a young boy. And that’s when things went sideways.

I pulled many a favour to get The Stone Skipper made. My friends from the industry really rose to the occasion. The broadcast money paid for union actors, bought the film stock and had it processed. Everything else came from generosity, which is another hallmark of the film biz. So when the film attracted little media attention and didn’t open any doors for paying directing gigs, I was devastated. 

Bottoming out is a very personal phenomenon. You don’t have to lose $50 million dollars or overdose with a needle in your arm to get there. You know it when it happens. For me, it was returning to the only trade I knew. For the next five years I lived a slow-motion nightmare, playing out my most humiliating shame in front of the very people who had supported me. I had reached for my dream and failed. And I couldn’t even get it together to write the next film.

By 2004, I had bought my first video camera. Having never mastered cinematography in university, I had given up on ever becoming a cameraperson. Learning how to expose the film properly eluded me, so I gave up because of the false belief that I was stupid. But with video, you see the results immediately. So I began shooting everyday things happening around me and the results were pretty good. My pals in the camera department were convinced the footage was HD, even though that had only just been invented. (I wasn’t). The real opening was when desktop video editing became available.

I met Jules Koostachin around then and we became fast friends. She was a single Cree mother from James Bay, just south of the Arctic Ocean. Jules wanted to be in front of the camera and I wanted to make something. She told me she wanted to make a ceremonial dress for dancing at pow wows in honour of healing her mother and grandmother. I didn’t know what a Jingle Dress was and had never heard of Indian Residential Schools, but I trusted Jules so we began with the understanding that the project would take a year to film.

Six years and two children later, Jules danced for the first time at a pow wow with her mother at her side in the Ojibwa territory of western Ontario, where the traditions of the sacred healing Jingle Dress originate. Four years after that, I completed Jingle Dress – First Dance. Over that time the amount of trust Jules and her mother placed in me slowly dawned. Jules’ mother was interred against her will as a child for ten years in the Canadian Native Residential School system, a federally designed and funded, deliberately racist tool of assimilation. Posing as education for over 100 years, First Nations children who were forced to live away from their families were chronically subjected to horrendous physical, psychological and sexual abuse. 

In 2008, the Canadian federal government apologized and paid a nearly $2 billion settlement and established a series of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings, based on those in post apartheid South Africa. The completion of Jingle Dress – First Dance coincided with the TRC and was invited to debut at the final hearings in Edmonton, 2014.

Jules’ wisdom, leadership, compassion and friendship have profoundly benefitted my life. After sustained attempts over decades to heal myself using filmmaking, a major breakthrough happened by way of the collaboration with her. And it opened the way for me to embrace my own healing journey from child sex abuse as a positive thing to do.

Voice is more than words. For me it includes my work in filmmaking. In the making of my next project, Picking Trauma’s Pocket, I give birth to my own voice. This journey is about nothing less than emancipation. And I want you to be my witness.

You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign until November 10, 2016. 


Go here to support this amazing project: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm
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James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.


Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

October 11, 2016

Into A Better Place

This week, James Buffin continues his story and shares about his first step into a support program that opened up much more than he could have ever imagined.

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For those of you joining this blog thread now, in the last post I shared about being triggered into awareness in 2011 about sexual abuse I endured in the 1970’s; that the shift in consciousness began with the arrest of my son’s teacher on child pornography charges.

The investigating officer in my son’s case was very kind. She pointed me in the right direction to make my own report and then referred me to a place called The Gatehouse in Toronto, where peer facilitated group programs have been running since 1998. It’s been said that the stairs to the entrance there are some of the hardest three steps you can ever take, but my intake meeting was even tougher. 

Until then, I had assumed that the chronic stress I was living with on a daily basis was simply a function of career choice. I had been a freelance technician in film and television since 1988, where the long days and months were either filled with diabolically chaotic scenarios at the mercy of extreme seasonal variations or mind numbingly repetitive banal studio shoots where we were chronically deprived of sunlight and fresh air. One of my favourite sayings about the film industry is, There’s only two kinds of people in the movies. Those who are dying to get in and those who are dying to get out. Remember, by this time I had a couple of decades under my belt and was struggling to get my own projects off the ground, but was either totally consumed by the work which I needed to pay the bills, or the worry about where the next gig was coming from. 

It was during the intake meeting at the Gatehouse where I began to recognize that the feeling of being trapped was actually something inside of me, not a real function of my external circumstances. That my inability to catch a full breath and the constant body sensations of heightened alert were not just due to a constantly changing landscape and lots of coffee. 

A crack in my perception of the world opened up in that meeting. Through it I caught a glimpse of something better. But it wasn’t easy. The cost of this new and intriguing possibility was vulnerability. 

There I was sitting in a room full of teddy bears and kids books, sharing my story with a total stranger. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a wave of fear. Would I be turned away? Or worse, would this be just one more time where after reaching out for help, the professional on the other side of the table would blankly hand me a pamphlet and invite me to another session I couldn’t afford in either time or money? 


Accessibility is a key principle at The Gatehouse. Founder Arthur Lockhart has ensured that this is upheld, so that there is never a financial obstacle to people who want help. Their core support model is peer facilitated group programs. The first one is 15 weeks, two hours a week. The second phase is co-ed (a first in Canada). After that, a constantly evolving array of programming is available that includes, but is not limited to, a partners program (another first) and art therapy. 

Tone is perhaps the greatest element that separates The Gatehouse from any other support I’ve ever experienced. The work that is done there involves going into very dark places and shining a light. And it’s one of the happiest, most welcoming environments I’ve ever experienced. I think that lightness is the foundation that allows for the heavy lifting to happen. It’s not an attempt to gloss over, ignore, displace or minimize the struggles of survivors. For example, during the phase one men’s groups, it would be typical for Art to respectfully check in by poking his head through the door. Imagine a group of 8 or 9 guys sharing hard stuff. We’re talking tears and snot. And in comes Art with a smile to say, “Hey guys, how’s it going?” To respectfully pull that off, without breaking the integrity of the meeting is what I’m talking about. That tone is contagious. I’ve never seen a happier group of traumatized people than at The Gatehouse.

Lockhart had already been doing work with documentary filmmaking prior to my participation at The Gatehouse, so he was familiar with the power of the medium. By the time I arrived, I’d already been self-documenting my story for several months. It seemed a natural fit to do some work together. One of the ways I’m giving back is to produce a video blog of empowered survivors, The Turn with James Buffin, filmed at The Gatehouse. You can see it here.

In the next episode, I will share about the genesis of the documentary film Picking Trauma’s Pocket and how it went from doing a selfie outside a police station to telling a global story. The international phase of shooting has gradually evolved into a global odyssey where I have met incredible survivors, scientists and specialists on several continents and counting.


You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign until November 10, 2016. 

Go here to support this amazing project: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm


Read Part 3...

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James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.


Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

October 4, 2016

Heal Myself – Help the World

James Buffin is no joke! He's an advocate, father, survivor, and director. When I learned about his upcoming documentary film, Picking Trauma’s Pocket, I knew immediately that I wanted to bring James on as a guest blogger to share more about his journey and this amazing project. In today's post, he shares what led him to take on creating a film about sexual abuse.

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All through adulthood I’ve tenaciously sought professional help. Alcohol. Relationships. Anxiety. Depression. Under-productivity. Alienation. Trust. Financial struggles. Anger. Overwhelmed by these problems, I would leave the helpers offices no better off and sometimes, much worse. Despite well-known professional studies linking childhood sexual abuse to all of the symptoms I was living with, until recently none of them asked if that was part of my history. My sustained efforts to get the help I needed only resulted in reinforcing the imposed belief that I was a flawed person, destined to work around problems too big to resolve. I was blindly living with the full impact of trauma from sexual abuse three decades prior and time was not healing it.

Sexual trauma is incredibly difficult to articulate. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard is that your spirit goes into hiding. It did more than harm me in the present. As a child it scarred my future by leaving me unable to fully advocate for myself about the things that were most important to me because underneath it all I had no sense of belonging. All of this resulting from a malicious attack by a sexual predator masquerading as my caregiver on a rural overnight trip.  

One of the most painful parts is career. On the outside I appeared to have an enviable life. Rubbing shoulders with movie stars. Travel. Time off between gigs. But on the inside I was forever churning with shame at not having reached a coveted goal…to make a living creating my own films. Despite a university degree in filmmaking, hundreds of connections who would certainly help me and decades of professional experience, I had the inner experience of being voiceless. What I am talking about is not entitlement. It is the impact of criminal actions that stole my innocence 39 years ago and to this day affect my ability to follow through on my most personal goals.

Make no mistake. This is not a sob story.

Uneducated and unaware of the link to my prolific suffering, I did not break the silence until my son’s teacher was arrested on child pornography charges in 2011. Outraged at the school administration’s elevation of their self-preservation above the needs of the students, a raw nerve was touched in me. In a hot, overcrowded sweaty gymnasium filled with anxious angry parents, my own experience was validated for the first time. I finally experienced what the appropriate response is to my own abuse. The most proactive thing I could do while I waited three months for police to confirm that my son’s image was not in the teacher’s collection of 40,000 files, was make the long overdue police report about my own abuse in the 1970’s. Just in case something had happened and my son was not able to disclose. He’s ok. Nothing happened. But for me everything changed. And that’s when I began filming Picking Trauma’s Pocket.

For five years, I’ve been self-documenting my attempts to articulate what the experience is of living with an invisible injury that rendered me churned up and fragmented on the inside yet calm and together on the outside. On this journey, I have interviewed hundreds of empowered survivors of child sex abuse in Canada, the United States, Guyana, Bolivia and Taiwan. Whether it’s Bolivian lawyer Brisa D’Angulo with one child in her arms and another in tow, best selling author and prolific neuroscientist Bessel van der Kolk in his office, or yoga practitioner Sat Dharam Kaur, the stories reinforce each other and yet highlight the ugly truth that there is no magic bullet solution. This film is my global odyssey to gather up stories from the corners of the planet and show at the same time how big the problem is and the beautiful diversity of our collective struggles to create a better world.   

Picking Trauma’s Pocket is courageously inspirational evidence that healing is possible. And for a world where on average one in five people are sexually abused in childhood, yet go on to adulthood without proper support, Picking Trauma’s Pocket is vitally important because many people are suffering in silence. Right now. That many of over a billion people around the planet who have been sexually abused in childhood should feel alone is deeply ironic. Sexual trauma is real. It is an invisible plague. It isn’t going away on its own. And it is scared of the light inside each and every survivor.

Voice is more than words. For me it includes my work in filmmaking. In the making of this film I give birth to my own voice. This journey is about nothing less than emancipation. And I want you to be my witness.


You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign between October 6th and November 10, 2016. 

Go here to support this amazing project starting October 6th: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm

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James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.

Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

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