South Surrey residents John Banovich and Alison Soroka have created a production company called Smiles and Laughter Entertainment

Breaking the cycle of abuse

Filmmakers shed light on domestic violence

Its creation is undeniably rooted in the darkness and suffering of the past – but in its name it looks forward to a brighter future.

Smiles and Laughter Entertainment was founded by two South Surrey residents, Alison Soroka and award-winning director John Banovich, in response to a specific incident of domestic violence in their city.

The murder of 69-year-old Surrey resident Maria Catroppa by her 74-year-old husband in November 2009 struck a particular chord with Soroka, a mother of three, who says she has firsthand knowledge of domestic abuse.

But she was also inspired by positive moves in the community to break what she calls “the cycle of abuse” – a repertoire of learned-over-generations, societally 0enabled behaviours that, in addition to the injuries and deaths it can inflict on its most obvious victims, also creates ripples throughout communities; and even victimizes perpetrators who only realize when it has gone to extremes that what they are doing is wrong.

Particularly impressed by the proactive work of Surrey Coun. Barinder Rasode with the Surrey Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (SCADA), Soroka joined forces with award-winning film maker Banovich – known for his commercials for Mothers Against Drunk Driving – to create a social media campaign to increase awareness of domestic violence and the resources available to its victims.

With the blessing of Mayor Dianne Watts and the support of Surrey council, Smiles and Laughter is partnering with Surrey Women’s Centre to launch the campaign, titled The Honest Truth.

First step will be the production of a PSA, utilizing Banovich’s directoral touch and production know-how, scheduled to be shot in Surrey on June 28.

It will feature Catroppa’s daughter, Dr. Jay Tuason, who will “honour her mother’s life by recounting the tragic circumstances of her death,” and also a re-enactment of elements of her relationship with her husband, Sebastiano Damin, that may have foreshadowed the tragedy. (Damin was convicted earlier this month in B.C. Supreme Court on a charge of second-degree murder, and received a mandatory life sentence, with parole eligibility at 10 years.)

But, in keeping with Soroka and Banovich’s determination to move forward positively, the PSA will be just part of a website with social media links designed to inform, connect with, and empower victims of violence and their families.

The aim, Soroka and Banovich say, is to “bring greater accessibility to existing resources” and also “serve as a tool that other service providers can use, either through embedding the YouTube video (of the PSA) on their agency’s website, or in using this model to create their own campaign.”

One of the most important objectives, they say, is to increase “popular understanding of domestic violence and high risk factors leading to serious bodily injury or death.”

It’s a society-imposed hurdle of silence that needs to be overcome, the filmmakers told the Peace Arch News.

“People don’t want to hear it’s going on in families they know,” Soroka said. “They want to sweep it under the carpet – it’s something shameful.”

Banovich compared it to the drinking and driving issue – a behaviour that was once considered a social norm until effective campaigns were mounted to raise public awareness.

Like Soroka, he has moved from being a victim – he narrowly survived a road accident caused by a drinking driver who was, himself, killed in the crash – to become an advocate for change.

“Back when I started getting involved the issue of drinking and driving was just coming to light,” he said.

“Now we’re well on the way to where impaired driving is not tolerable – when we see it, we do something about it.”

Banovich, who admits to bearing some psychological scars from incidents of domestic violence he witnessed as a child, said it’s high time that society decides that it, too, is unacceptable.

“There has been a lot of cultural acceptance of domestic violence,” he noted.

Part of this has to do with the way that victims are often made to feel that they are responsible for the abuse, and end up blaming themselves, or living in denial, Soroka said.

“Often victims will stay with their abuser. There is a lot of manipulation and control going on, particularly when there are children involved. It complicates the issue.”

Soroka could be forgiven for having little compassion for perpetrators of domestic violence, but said she also recognizes that merely assigning blame is not the key to ending the problem.

“In many cases, they don’t know they have an illness – that there is a cycle there. It’s learned at an early age,” Soroka said.

“If we don’t break it down, the cycle will continue and continue.”

And that’s where Smiles and Laughter Entertainment – with an outlook as hopeful as its name – can make a long-term difference, she believes, one that could end up extending far beyond the boundaries of Surrey.

“Change can happen and we can all contribute to that,” Soroka said.

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