Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas (‘Life Overtakes Me’ directors) on ‘consequences of stress and trauma’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas first learned about Resignation Syndrome through an article. Samuelson explains in our recent webchat (watch the video above). Their Oscar-nominated short film, “Life Overtakes Me,” led her to travel over to Sweden to meet with several professionals, and then Haptas joined her shortly after that. Haptas elaborates that what really drew them to these stories “was that we felt that this was an example of being able to see, to have visually represented, the consequences of stress and trauma.” In addition to showing children who have completely checked out of life, Haptas hoped that this project would “make a viewer think about how trauma and stress affect refugees just about anywhere.”

“Life Overtakes Me,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, examines the condition of Resignation Syndrome that has been affecting hundreds of refugee children who are living in Sweden. With families whose asylum status is currently in limbo, children will become withdrawn and regress into a coma-like state where they don’t eat, interact or move. The children can stay in this condition for months or even years and require tremendous amounts of care.

Samuelson and Haptas have both kept in contact with the families whose plight they documented in the film. One of the children, Karen, who is shown displaying slight signs of progress by the end of the film is doing much better now. “He’s actually come out of this over a period of months and is eating. He’s started to go back to school a little bit, so he’s doing very well,” Samuelson tells us. Another child from the film, Leyla, isn’t as fortunate and the syndrome is now affecting her sister as well. “Leyla is still exactly as she was in the film and it’s been over two years now. Her sister is hovering in the first stage of Resignation Syndrome, which means she’s lying there. Sometimes her eyes will flicker a little bit, but they can occasionally get her out of bed and that she’s able to be fed. They’re hoping that she won’t go any farther into it,” Samuelson explains. She adds that even though the families asylum status may not be resolved, Sweden affords many protections to families going through the asylum process. “They provide them with housing, food, medical care and schooling so that until their asylum is resolved, they are taken care of, which is really fantastic.”

Both filmmakers said they were ecstatic when they received the news that their short film had been nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject. Samuelson said that they’re not normally screamers but that day was definitely an exception. “We just couldn’t stop beaming the whole day, just smiling and we’ve pretty much been like that since then,” she says. Haptas finds it especially striking since when they started making the film, they weren’t sure how it would be seen. “Suddenly we were hooked up with Netflix. So we have to say that it’s wonderful to work extremely hard on this project like filmmakers do and to get affirmed like this. It’s a wonderful thing.”

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