Eleven years ago, March 27, 1997, early in the morning, my daughter Clara was born in Lisbon, Portugal. I was there to see her emerge into this world, unlike the other Portuguese fathers who sat in the waiting room instead. It was a joyous experience, followed with three and a half years in Portugal, then Paris, and then Rome, during which I spent almost everyday, all day with Clara, raising her. Her mother, Teresa Villaverde was usually off making a film – two weeks after Clara was born she went off to prepare a film, one on a modest European industrial level, and for the next 18 months she was primarily busy preparing, shooting, and then editing that film, Os Mutantes. When she was gone I took care of Clara, as well as in those times where she was present. It was a complete joy, surely the happiest period of my life, raising Clara. There was no grandmother or babysitter: it was my full time job, taken willingly and happily. I can’t describe how much I learned in process. Clara was with me as a tiny infant, sitting on my lap, as I edited my first DV film, London Brief, in Lisbon in late spring of that year. And throughout the Parisian film, OUI NON, her voice punctuates the sound track, as she was with me almost all the time – while strolling through the city, while shooting with actors. In 3 and a half years I was absent at most 2 weeks, gone to festivals or other such things.
On November 2, 2000, after her mother returned to Rome from shooting Agua e Sal in Portugal – a film in which a surrogate look-alike mother, dressed and with haircut to pass as a dead-ringer for Teresa plays the role of a mother who kidnaps her own daughter as played by Clara – she kidnapped Clara, and went furtively to Lisbon, hiding from friends and family for several weeks. She then placed Clara in a school, while she went off to edit her new film, with Clara staying for after hours as her mother worked in usual film-world fashion. Teresa would not let Clara talk with me, and when I went to Lisboa with the supposed legal right to see and visit Clara daily, this was blocked, and the courts did nothing to enforce their ruling. Thus inverted those 3 and a half years of joy, not only for me, but for Clara, who naturally was severely damaged by the sudden absence of the person who had brought her up; and by the abuse inflicted upon her by her mother. The next years my life changed to the most sad and unhappy of my life, and my work ceased as I attempted to see that justice and law do as it was supposed to – to return Clara to her home. Under Italian law Teresa Villaverde had kidnapped, a felony offense. Under international law, under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, she had also committed a crime. And properly Clara was legally to have been returned to Italy, where whatever custody terms would be decided under Italian law. However the courts and government of Portugal are corrupt; Teresa Villaverde comes from a politically and culturally influential, though not rich, family, and the law was bent and broken to accommodate her family’s interests. I have not seen or heard of or from Clara since August 2002. Mail sent to Clara’s address, registered, has all been returned. I do not even know with any certainty where they live. It is clear that if Teresa Villaverde has any voice in the matter, Clara will neither see nor hear from or know anything of her father – the person who raised and loved her for three and a half years. And she does have a voice. In a Lisbon children’s court in summer of 2005, having demonstrated a long sequence of perjuries from Teresa and her family – false claims of residence, assertions of my poverty and incapacity to make a living, claims of violence – I heard it said that Clara, naturally not present, had been told her father did not love her, did not want to see her, and other such pleasantries. What warped “love” would think it would be in a child’s interests to be told a parent did not love her, I cannot fathom. But so, surely, has Clara been told. And my imagination is not so ripe as to conceive whatever else she has doubtless been told. That same court later issued a ruling that, never mind the illegal kidnapping, the Hague Convention, etc., Clara would legally be placed in Ms. Villaverde’s custody, and I’d have visiting rights – to be enforced in the same manner as the court had done so up to that time, to say not enforced at all. I have heard and been told nothing of Clara since that time.
Long ago, in 1965-67, I spent several years in prison for refusing to cooperate with the Selective Service system; later I lived for some time in what others might call dire poverty; in the early 1990’s I was betrayed by what I thought to be a close friend, Henry S. Rosenthal, who illegally claimed the copyright to 4 of my films, and being “independently wealthy” – to say lived off family money – he could sustain the court costs which I could not. And I lost all control, rights and incomes to Sure Fire, All the Vermeers in New York, The Bed You Sleep In, and FRAMEUP – films for which Mr Rosenthal is listed as”producer” when in truth I raised virtually all the money for them, and secured almost all their sales. To say in my life I’ve had my fair share of things to be unhappy about. But all of this pales to nothing confronted with the tragedy which Teresa Villaverde inflicted on our daughter Clara, a tragedy which Clara will carry her entire life.
I hope in the coming year to resume work on a film I’d begun before Clara was born, called Picolli Miracoli, a kind of essay about those wonderful three and a half years of raising her, and learning and loving so much. I have tried a few times to return to it, but the pain was too intense to proceed, and I did not wish to contaminate the lovely joy which was there with the stain of what happened in Nov. 2000 and since.
Clara will be eleven in a few more days. A letter and a DVD of Passages was sent to her, registered post, but I fully anticipate it will be returned, or accepted and destroyed. It was a letter written knowing she will never be allowed to see it, at least not now, by post. Perhaps in some future time she will find it, along with all the court papers and other things she will need to sort out the truths of her life.
A letter to my daughter Clara:
March 15 2008
It is 11 years since I sat in the hospital, and watched joyously as you emerged into this world. And now you have, with me, and with your mother, spun around the sun 10 times – just the beginning of your life.
I write to wish you happy birthday, and wish I could be with you, as I have wished I could be with you since Nov 2, 2000, when your mother took you from our home in Rome and fled with you to Lisbon, and the corrupted legal system of Portugal closed around you.
You are still too young now to understand or know what has been done to you. You are too surrounded with the falsehoods of your mother and her family to be able to know at all what was really done to you. Nor, sadly, can you begin to understand now what this story will mean to you later in your life. These will be things of which you must and will learn later.
I send this today, knowing that you will not see it – that your mother will refuse to accept it, she will return it unopened, or she will destroy it. This is sure and clear from what she has done in the last 7 and a half years.
And in doing so she will, again and still, refuse you the love which you deserve and need from your father, and which he gives to you freely, as he did in the first three and a half years of your life, when he raised you almost alone. He loved you dearly then, as he does now. And he awaits the time when you will be free to reach out, to find him. I will be here for you.
With deepest love, and sadness that you have been kept from it for now some 7 and a half years.
Happy birthday Clara, and may love grace your life.
Passam onze anos desde que no hospital te vi vir a este mudno, com imensa alegria.
E agora, comigo, e com a tua mãe, deste a volta ao mundo onze vezes – quase o principio da tua vida.
Escrevo-te para te desejar feliz aniversário e que gostaria de estar contigo, como o desejo desde 2 Nov 2000, altura em que a tua mãe te levou de casa, em Roma, voando contigo para Lisboa, e quando o corrupto sistema legal português se fechou em teu redor.
Ainda és muito nova para te aperceberes ou saberes o que te foi feito. Estás rodeada das falsidades da tua mãe e da sua familia de maneira que te impedem de te aperceberes da situação real em que estás. Não será igualmente possivel começares a perceber toda a historia que te rodeia, a não ser mais tarde na tua vida. Tudo isto são coisas que saberás e aprenderás mais tarde.
Envio hoje esta carta, sabendo que decerto não a lerás – pois a tua mãe recusa-la-á, ou devolverá a carta sem a abrir, ou vai destruí-la. Isto é certo, devido ao comportamento que tem tido nos ultimos 7 anos e meio.
E fazendo isso, ela continua a recusar o amor que tu mereces e necessitas do teu pai, e que o faria com todo o carinho, como o fiz nos primeiros três anos e meios da tua vida, altura em que te criei praticamente sozinho. Amei-te e muito então, como agora. E espero o tempo em que sejas livre para te poder descobrir e recuperar. Estarei aqui e sempre para ti.
Com profundo amor, e também tristeza pela forma como tens sido afastada de mim nos ultimos 7 anos e meio.
Parabéns Clara, e que o amor abençoe a tua vida
O teu pai,
[Note, April 22 2008: A week ago I received in the mail the registered packet - this letter and a DVD of Passages - sent for Clara's birthday. I had anticipated its return, though marked with a different cause - in the event it came back marked "unknown". So now I know that I no longer even know where my daughter lives. I am doubtful that the Juvenile court which sanctioned all this will deign to inform me, or perhaps even they no longer know. Sadly this is typical of persons known as "parental alienators," a behavior pattern common to those who kidnap their own children, and a pattern which Teresa Villaverde has consistently followed throughout this unhappy story. The consequences for children subjected to such actions is, naturally, dismal.
Should anyone reading this - a friend of Teresa's or anyone else - know their current whereabouts, I would deeply appreciate knowing. As it is it seems the best and short of hiring a private detective to gumshoe the matter is to sprinkle the internet with Clara's story, and hope in a few years, with a curious mind wondering just who her father is, she'll find me. It would still be some small comfort to know where Clara is living.]