On Saturday mornings two years ago, Chicago filmmaker Kate Wrobel crouched down and asked kids to describe their summer activities. “Saving babies,” the children earnestly testified into her camcorder. These kids weren’t playing; they were protesting outside Milwaukee abortion clinics. Wrobel distilled 16 hours of Hi-8 video into a personal ten-minute report titled How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

The children had been enlisted in the antiabortion crusade by their parents. One father in Wrobel’s tape holds a child in his arms and swats at the camera, calling Wrobel a slut. Sheltering her wide-eyed daughter with one hand, a mother screams, “She’s alive, she’s alive, she’s alive, she’s alive.” Then, jabbing at an unseen opponent, she chants, “You’re dead, you’re dead.” Prochoice protesters chant back: “Using kids is not the way; take them home and let them play.” In one jarring scene, four cops pry a girl holding a placard off her father’s shoulders so they can arrest him for trampling a fence. In others, it’s the children who are arrested.

In her voice-over, Wrobel recalls her own childhood sense of trust. “I pretty much believed if you were taller than me and I knew you, you told the truth.” Her faith in her father carried her through some scary adventures–though none where arrest was a risk. During summer vacations on Lake Elizabeth in Wisconsin, her dad took her on predawn fishing trips, let her steer the family car, and showed her how to shoot a rifle. Wrobel can also identify with the Milwaukee kids’ religious fervor. She recalls, “I chewed the body of Christ and I swore I tasted blood. This is normal stuff for a Catholic kid–full of innocence, the will to believe, and most importantly, a limited worldview.”

After finishing editing her black-and-white tape last week, Wrobel no longer wondered if she too could have ended up holding a bloody fetus poster instead of a microphone. “You don’t realize at what point in your life you change.”

How I Spent My Summer Vacation and eight other short works will be screened at 8 PM Saturday at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, as part of the 19th Festival of Illinois Film and Video Artists. The show will be preceded by an awards ceremony at 7:30 and followed by a champagne reception. On Sunday at 3 PM there’s a repeat screening, followed by a discussion with the artists. Admission is $5, $3 for students and seniors.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.