STEVIE is a documentary on the life of Stephen Fielding, a young man in rural Illinois who, in a short 20 years, has lived a life fraught with pain. What makes the documentary compelling is the relationship of Stevie to the filmmaker, Steve James.
Ordinarily, a documentary on “the life of a troubled youth” would not get much attention, since dozens, probably hundreds, are made every year. The difference in STEVIE is that the filmmaker is a part of the young man’s history, and he unflinchingly looks at the pain and burden of becoming involved with someone who is emotionally, and spiritually, troubled.
Award winning HOOP DREAMS documentarian Steve James was a “big brother” to a troubled young boy named Stevie Fielding in 1985. Steve had to quit after a short while to continue his education in Chicago, feeling badly for the young boy, but cutting off communication for nearly 10 years. After the success of HOOP DREAMS, in 1995, Steve decided to follow up on Stevie and seek forgiveness in a way, by creating a documentary of his troubled life.
Stevie had been in and out of every juvenile hall, foster home and mental hospital in Southern Illinois. He was the illegitimate child of his mother and a man he has never seen or known. As soon as his mother met another man she wanted to marry, she neglected, viciously beat and then rejected her illegitimate son, Stevie, finally forcing him to live with his step-grandparents only 50 yards away in another house. Trying their best, his grandparents could not contain him, leading to multiple foster homes where he was raped and abused by other “children.” Meanwhile, his mother Bernice has a darling daughter, Brenda, who is the apple of her eye. Bernice initially refuses to be interviewed by Steve.
As a teenager and young adult, Stevie had over a dozen arrests on various charges, and his greatest dream was to dance on the grave of his mother. Briefly marrying a 34-year-old woman with children, he is single again in nine months because of violent quarrels between them.
It is as a 24-year-old that viewers first meet Stevie and Steve. We also meet Stevie’s lover/fiancé Tonya, a young woman with obvious mental and physical disabilities. Steve takes a brief hiatus as a “big brother” to work on another film for a year, only to return and find Stevie in a horrific state, being accused of molesting an eight year old girl and having written and signed a confession! The audience also learns that Stevie’s half-sister Brenda was molested by Stevie when they were younger.
Steve is torn in his emotions. Should he do everything to help Stevie? Is it cruel that he is documenting this young man’s pain? Where is the line between objectivity and involvement crossed? How do you stay in relationship with a greasy haired, tattooed, crooked teethed, uneducated embodiment of everything redneck, and a soon-to-be convicted child molester, too? Stevie is on a fast track to a life in prison hell, yet it is obvious that he is still a confused, wounded 11-year-old inside.
Then Bernice, Stevie’s mother, enters the non-denominational, full-gospel, jumping-shouting church, and things really start to change on a Christian level. Soon the critical, hard, cryptic speaking, “it’s not my fault” Bernice is visibly changed into a caring and loving mother. The audience learns that she is the child of an abusive, alcoholic family, and has her own demons to fight. The audience sees Bernice making amends bit by bit with her estranged son. . . and the miracle she has been praying for ever since her “salvation” – Stevie coming to the church to be baptized!
STEVIE is an emotional roller coaster because it forces the viewer to examine the person Stevie and why one is repulsed by his horrendous behavior, yet drawn by the heart-gripping story that is his life, and the hope that he can break the terrible cycle that entraps him.
STEVIE shows the amazing complication of family life and the horrendous impact a dysfunctional family can have on children. Stevie also shows how one person, really caring for another, can change that person’s life forever, but must risk being changed themselves.
Full of colorful real people and masterfully crafted, STEVIE is a powerful documentary. Marred by language and subject matter, it is not for children, or even young teens. The depictions of church, people worshipping, and baptism are handled starkly, but not with criticism. The pastors and godly foster home parents are shown and edited with honesty and clarity.
Please address your comments to:
Tom Ortenberg, President
Lions Gate FIlms
4553 Glencoe Ave., Suite 200
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Phone: (310) 314-2000
Fax: (310) 396-6041
(CC, LL, S, A, D, M) Christian worldview with an amazing portrayal of the biblical redemption of a family member; otherwise, it's the dark story of a boy failed by "the system"; 11 obscenities including five "f" words and two strong profanities; references to incest and sexual abuse; alcohol use; smoking; and, disrespectfulness to authority.