New York Film Academy Documentary Profiles Brigitte Harris, Sentenced for Avenging Childhood Abuse

May 3, 2011

Bedford Correctional Facility

Bedford Correctional Facility, the only maximum security facility for women in the State of New York

Bianca Zanini Vasconcellos is a student in New York Film Academy’s one-year documentary conservatory. For her current assignment, she has spent time filming in the Bedford Hills Maximum Security Correctional Facility for Women. Bianca is profiling 29-year old Brigitte Harris, who is serving five years of prison for castrating and killing her father.

Bianca originally heard about the story through a photographer who had photographed Brigitte Harris for an article in The New Yorker. After Googling Brigitte, Bianca reached out through personal letters and Brigitte responded. The two have been pen palling for sometime.

Brigitte Harris

Brigitte Harris

Brigitte’s story unfolded on July 28th, 2007 when Brigitte called 911 to report someone was bleeding to death. The “someone” turned out to be her father, Eric Goodman, who was already dead. Brigitte had been sexually abused by her father from the age of three and set out to protect her nieces. Says Bianca: “When Brigitte saw him playing with her small nieces and talking about taking them with him to his home country Liberia, she couldn’t take it anymore. She invited him over that Summer day in July, to make sure he would never hurt anyone again. She wanted him to live the rest of his life without his ‘weapon’”. Brigitte’s original intent was just to injure her father’s organs, but his struggle resulted in his accidental death and Brigitte’s 5-15 year sentence.

On the filmmaking process Bianca comments that the biggest obstacles in making documentaries are time and personalities: “The two biggest challenges, I think, are the amount of time everything takes – much more than I thought – and then the fact that you are dealing with real people – people who can change their minds, who have schedules, who have interests, fears and expectations. And you have to find a balance, where you respect that without giving up on your own ideas and goals for the film.

Brigitte Harris

Bianca hopes to prepare one cut of the film for Discovery’s student competition. However, as Brigitte’s lawyer pushes for an appeal, Bianca wants to broaden the focus of the film and do a longer cut. Bianca comments that the documentary course at New York Film Academy has been helpful in creating the film:

“The documentary course at NYFA prepares its students not only for these challenges, but for working as real documentarians in real life. We talk about the various challenges with our teachers, but also with our fellow students, who all face different problems with different solutions.”

And as for her ultimate goal in documentary? “I want to make great films that will reach a broad audience and hopefully have some kind of impact on people’s lives and in society. I’m in my mid 20’s, just starting off my career – so if I’m not idealistic about changing things for the better, who will be?”