Directed by Rita Ciolek.

Synopsis

A physically and emotionally abused girl escapes home in an attempt to find refuge at her free-spirited grandmother’s horse farm.

Growing Strong was an official selection of the 2017 WVN Online Film Festival.

About Rita Ciolek

Rita Ciolek immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1995. She spent the first few years in Chicago working towards a bachelor’s degree and, in 2001, she graduated in the top 25 students in the senior class from the DePaul University’s College of Commerce while at the same time obtaining a CPA certification. Upon graduation, Rita joined the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers where she worked for nearly a decade and gained valuable business skills in strategy, leadership, and teamwork. Eventually, her adventurous spirit and passion for storytelling led her to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema degree from the School of Cinematic Arts at DePaul University (2015). Wanting to combine her business skills with her newly awakened creative side, Rita founded Kazia Productions, LLC, a media production company that aims to create human interest and social impact stories. Rita’s notable works include “Jax,” which was nominated for Best Editing and which won a Best Documentary award at the 2014 DePaul University Premiere Film Festival. For her MFA thesis work, Rita wrote, directed and produced “Growing Strong.”

Director’s Statement

I wrote and later directed/produced “Growing Strong” while pursuing an MFA in Cinema at DePaul University in Chicago. The entire process, from writing the logline to finalizing the director’s cut took about a year and a half of extremely hard work, many sacrifices, even broken bones. Despite the difficulties of making a student film, we managed to put together an amazing team of women and men, find incredible actors, and zero in on spectacular locations for filming the story. When I reflect back on the entire production process, I can summarize it by saying that “Growing Strong” is a film that was meant to be. Somehow, someway, I felt guided to the right people, the right places, the right resources.

In the story, a physically and emotionally abused girl finds refuge at her grandmother’s horse farm and begins to heal from abuse inflicted on her by her father. As such, one of the most important tasks during pre-production, aside from casting, was to find an old farmhouse suitable for the story. As serendipity would have it, a friend called a friend and, during our second scouting trip to Kentucky, we secured Caledonia Farm where we shot the majority of scenes. While filming, a local newspaper journalist named Paul Gibson came to interview me, and later stated in an article: “Ironically, Caledonia Farm LLC was previously owned and operated as the Bethlehem Farm and dedicated to helping women in racing rehab their lives from alcohol, drug, and physical abuse (…).”

I felt called to make “Growing Strong” because I had lived through the experience of physical and emotional abuse as a child, and its many not so colorful consequences. PTSD, including addictions and anxieties, tormented me for many years. Yet, I didn’t realize that there was a connection between my self-destructive behaviors as an adolescent and young adult, and the abuse I endured during childhood. I just remember feeling a lot of pain and really not knowing where it was coming from. It took years of therapy and healing to finally connect the dots. My hope is that by watching “Growing Strong” audiences will take away an understanding that physical and emotional abuse psychologically wounds the child, and also that an inward spiritual journey is a viable path for healing.