‘No Ordinary Love’

Sometimes, the most intimate partner can be the most deadly, as depicted in the independent film “No Ordinary Love.”

The movie, written and filmed in the Fort Worth area in 2018 and 2019 by local director, Chyna Robinson, is a feature-length romantic thriller that highlights the complexities of domestic violence in two couple’s relationships.

Robinson wrote the script after consulting with SafeHaven’s CEO, Kathryn Jacob, and speaking with over 20 women in SafeHaven’s two shelters. Several local actors and crew spent weeks filming in the Fort Worth area.

Plans are to submit the film into a variety of film festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival, to gain recognition in hopes of wider distribution.

Though the couples in the film aren’t directly based on any actual people, they are nonetheless based on every woman who endures domestic violence.

“I actually spoke with 23 women – friends, family, women in shelters, etc. – to get into the mindset of someone going through all types of abuse,” Robinson said. “One of the main questions these women are asked is ‘Why did you stay?’ I wanted to be able to answer that question in my film.”

The film’s executive producer, Tracy Rector, is in her second year as board chairwoman for SafeHaven of Tarrant County. She said she decided to work to bring awareness to intimate partner violence through film once she discovered victims of domestic violence homicides in Tarrant County often had not sought SafeHaven services.

She was herself a victim of intimate partner violence for 23 years.

“I’ve gotten a lot of healing by serving on the board at SafeHaven. I hope my story has encouraged other women to speak up and feel better about seeking a peaceful life for themselves and their children,” Rector said.

“When Tracy reached out to me, asking me if I was interested in making a film on domestic violence, I jumped on the opportunity,” Robinson said. “Of course, as an independent filmmaker, you rarely turn down such an opportunity. But also, IPV is something that I’d seen family and friends go through. I knew this was an amazing opportunity for me to be involved with making a difference.”

SafeHaven leads a High Risk Team and a Fatality Review, along with other partner agencies, through its Coordinated Community Response services to micro-manage the most violent offenders, victims at the greatest risk of fatality, and to review what went wrong when a victim dies, Rector said.

“Oftentimes, victims of abuse are either unaware or unaccepting of the risk they are in with their abusive relationship,” she said. “This film hopes to bring awareness to intimate partner violence, as one in three women in Tarrant County will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.”

Rector said the Savehaven Fatality Review is quarterly. In it, several community partners come together to look closely at any domestic violence homicides and try to understand what happened, how to learn from the incidents so other victims don’t die in similar circumstances.

“We look at our records to see if she ever called our hotline, stayed in our shelters or received crisis management our counseling at SafeHaven. Oftentimes she has not,” Rector said. “This is disturbing to me. It’s what keeps me up at night.”

So Rector began asking herself why is this happening? She said it comes down to lack of awareness. Were these women aware of services SafeHaven has to help them be safe, to leave their abuser, start a new life? Or, were they not aware of how much danger they were in? Either way, she thought a great way to raise awareness is through film.

“My request to Chyna was to be authentic to the issue, to be true to the statistics, research and science that we know about intimate partner violence. And she did exactly that with this script,” Rector said. “I also asked her to include spiritual abuse which presents its own nuance of power and control. My personal experience included spiritual abuse, and I wanted to especially bring awareness to this type of abuse.”

The film received a loud, standing ovation for a minute and a half at its only public screening to date. Robinson said she and Rector have since received many emails and messages from those in the audience, saying how much they loved the film and praising its accuracy.

“During the film, some talked back to the screen, many laughed where it was intended, and many cried when the story touched them. During one pivotal scene, you could feel the room holding their breath,” Robinson said.

One reviewer, Stephen Smith in Kansas, called the film “Tragically Beautiful.”

“From beginning to end, the movie is very well put together. It captures the essence of the tragic and unfortunate subject of domestic abuse in different ways and points of views,” Smith wrote. “All the while entertaining you with suspense, intense moments, and enough comic relief to break it up. Superb acting to make the stories come to life. Worth the price of admission. I’m ready to re-watch.”

SafeHaven works with thousands of women, men, and children in Tarrant County each year, said local President and CEO Kathryn Jacob. She also said nationwide, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. In Texas, the number rises to one in three. She added that Tarrant County, specifically, has been a challenge the past few years, with very high rates of domestic violence homicides, second to only Harris County, which is home to Houston.

SafeHaven published a document last October with instructions about how to interface with someone you think may be in a domestic violence relationship. It’s called “Start By Believing.”

“Responding to someone’s outcry is a very important part of the process, and it’s critical that we as a community get that piece “right,” Jacob said.

Jacob saw the film at a private screening. She praised the way it addresses the aforementioned question of “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

“The answer to that is complex and difficult to articulate for any of us, even those of us who work in this field every day,” she said. “What the movie does is show the answer to that age-old question.

“The acting and script is perfect – really showed truly what it is like to be imbedded in a relationship marred by abuse.”

Rector said that while domestice violence is a very sad situation, she is pleased that it is being given more focus from many people. She noted the popular HBO series “Big Little Lies” and the buzz it has created about domestic violence.

“We hope to do the same by bringing the conversation out of the shadows. Let’s talk about how this issue affects so many women and is embedded in our culture,” she said. “It’s not okay, and it’s time we acknowledge the impact it has on our communities.”

Robinson said that while she has not experienced domestic violence directly, she has held the hand of very close friends who have gone through it.

“I saw the confusion in their emotion and the hurt they felt and that made this topic very important to me,” she said.

She also believes the film will encourage others to come forward before it’s too late.

“We’ve already one woman from our private screening reach out to me. She just left her abusive husband,” Robinson said. “Times were getting hard for her, financially, and she missed him. She was considering going back to him. After seeing ‘No Ordinary Love’ she decided not to. That’s a big deal.

“She didn’t know about some of the resources SafeHaven offered. Now she does, and she knows that there is someone that can help her through this transition.”

Robinson said as the film is accepted into festivals, it will be posted on the movie’s social media pages (No Ordinary Love Movie, Instagram and Facebook). She said there is a possibility that they will do a public Texas premiere in October, during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Also, she said hopes are that the movie will make its way into theaters someday.

“We do hope to get some kind of distribution so that the film is available to everyone,” Robinson said.