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Jewish filmmakers challenge shaken baby syndrome in documentary

Meryl Goldsmith and Susan Goldsmith produced ‘The Syndrome,’ a documentary film debuting at the Kansas International Film Festival Oct. 12 at the Glenwood Arts Theatre.

“The Syndrome,” a documentary film challenging the validity of shaken baby syndrome written and produced by two Jewish women, is slated to have its world premiere at the Kansas International Film Festival at 12:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12, at the Glenwood Arts Theatre in Overland Park.

{mprestriction ids="1"}The festival begins Oct. 10 and concludes Oct. 16. The KIFF focuses on documentary, narrative and animated independent films. Tickets are available at http://www.kansasfilm.com/attend-the-festival/tickets. A Q&A is scheduled with the producers immediately after the show.

Filmmaker Meryl Goldsmith teams with award-winning investigative reporter Susan Goldsmith, who happens to be her first cousin, on this film. “The Syndrome” is described as an explosive documentary following the crusade of a group of doctors, scientists and legal scholars who have uncovered that shaken baby syndrome, a child abuse theory responsible for hundreds of prosecutions each year in the United States, is not scientifically valid. In fact, they say, it does not even exist.

Together the Goldsmith cousins document the unimaginable nightmare for those accused and shine a light on the men and women dedicating their lives to defending the prosecuted and freeing the convicted. As “The Syndrome” uncovers the origins of the myth of shaken baby syndrome, the film identifies those who have built careers and profited from this theory along with revealing their shocking pasts. According to the filmmakers, shaken baby proponents are determined to silence their critics while an unthinkable number of lives are ruined.

The 87-minute documentary is nominated for the festival’s Jury Award for the Best Social Justice Documentary. The jury winners will be announced just before “The Syndrome’s” premiere on Oct. 12. Audiences will also vote on their favorite documentary and narrative films. Those awards will be announced at the conclusion of the festival. 

Susan Goldsmith first started looking into this story in 2009 while she was an investigative reporter with The Oregonian in Portland. While she didn’t write the story for the newspaper, she felt “it was a really compelling story because of the enormous impact that this theory has had on people’s lives.”

“People are in prison and kids are in foster care and the theory is very problematic,” said Susan Goldsmith, who no longer works for the newspaper. Her reporting career started in the mid-1980s; she began concentrating on investigative reporting in 1996.

Meryl Goldsmith, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, called her cousin in 2010 looking for ideas. Since they knew Susan Goldsmith wasn’t going to write the story for the newspaper, Meryl Goldsmith thought “we were going to blow audiences away doing it as a documentary.”

They began working on the film in 2010. Both women produced the film, Meryl Goldsmith directed it and Susan Goldsmith handled the reporting duties. For the past year, the two women have been putting the finishing touches on the film and making plans to get it shown at festivals.

Meryl Goldsmith said it’s no coincidence the documentary is premiering in Kansas because it features Kevin and Kathy Hyatt, a couple that hails from Macon, Mo. Kathy Hyatt was arrested for child abuse, specifically shaken baby syndrome. She was eventually tried in court for the crime and found not guilty.

It’s a little less than a three-hour drive from Macon to Overland Park, and the Hyatts are expected to attend the premiere along with the filmmakers.

“What’s interesting about this couple,” Susan Goldsmith said, “is that her husband is a just-retired sergeant from the Missouri Highway Patrol. They found themselves on the other end of the criminal justice spectrum being charged with felony abuse. The wife was charged but the husband was part of the journey of course.

“Their church community supported them in their whole ordeal and a lot of the people from their church community in Missouri will be coming to the premier.” She expects a full house at the premiere; the theater holds up to 300 people.

Following its debut in Kansas, the documentary will be shown at the New Hampshire Film Festival. Meryl Goldsmith said “it will be in competition with the biggest documentary filmmakers such as Amir Bar-Lev, Joe Berlinger, Rory Kennedy and Steve James.” Following that the documentary will be shown at the Twin Cities film fest, which she said also has a great lineup.

“Now I’m applying for festivals next year,” said Meryl Goldsmith, who has been making films for about 11 years.

The cousins enjoyed working together said Meryl Goldsmith, who is 22 years younger than her cousin Susan, and hope to do it again.

“This has been so much fun and we have a lot more injustices to expose out there. This is only the beginning,” said Meryl Goldsmith, noting that they both grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., “a very Jewish area.”

Learn more about the “The Syndrome” on its website, thesyndromefilm.com, on Facebook

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