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Empty Arms, Broken Hearts (1994)

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clip Oliver's multiple abductions education content clip 2

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Oliver has been abducted by his father four times. The father has been imprisoned over the abduction. The adverse psychological effect on Oliver is evident.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows producer, narrator and interviewer Jacqueline Gillespie’s face in repose as she travels via train through rural France to interview Elisa Pridmore about the repeated abductions of her son, Oliver, by his father. Oliver’s face is seen at a window, while the voice-over explains that court officials have banned interviews with him. Gillespie greets Pridmore, who describes the abductions. The footage of Pridmore speaking to Gillespie is intercut with shots of Oliver riding his bicycle. Oliver’s father, Peter Malkin, is shown, apparently being interviewed while on holiday, and the clip then ends with footage of him being escorted by police, as the voice-over informs the viewer that he was sent to prison in the United Kingdom.

Educational value points

  • The clip provides a perspective on parental child abductions, profoundly traumatic events for children and for their families. More than 20,000 children are known to have been abducted by a parent and yet the consequences of parental abductions have historically been underestimated both by the legal system and within society generally. Such abductions have usually received less media coverage and their victims less support than cases of strangers abducting children. This documentary, released in 1994, therefore serves an important role in raising public awareness of the problem.
  • Film techniques are used to powerful effect in the clip. Peaceful images of the French countryside where Oliver now lives and shots of him riding and wheeling his bicycle are paired with his mother’s voice-over describing the violence and psychological distress to which she believes his father has subjected him. Background sounds can be heard during the voice-over and the birdsong and the creaking of the bicycle intensify the contrast between the events being discussed and the visuals. Other methods of narrating a story for which no footage exists include re-enactments and using still photographs
  • Telling a subject’s story without being able to conduct a personal interview poses a challenge for documentary filmmakers. With the court ban on interviews with Oliver, the filmmakers instead interview his mother and minimise intrusion for Oliver by filming him but not interviewing him or requiring him to respond. They use images, especially close-ups of his face, to good effect. This means, however, that the film is from the viewpoints of the filmmakers and of Oliver’s mother, not of Oliver himself, and the extent to which this is truly Oliver’s story is debatable. Documentary filmmakers may also face, in a situation like this, the question of whether the use of a minor’s image constitutes a further invasion of the child’s rights.
  • Jacqueline Gillespie’s involvement illustrates how personal experience can inform and add weight to a documentary. Gillespie’s own two children were abducted by their father in 1992, just two years before this documentary was released. As a result of Gillespie’s media connections and her ex-husband’s status as a Malaysian prince, the case received considerable media coverage and her personal circumstances would have been widely known, and sympathised with, by the documentary’s intended audience. Gillespie’s experiences lend gravitas and empathy to her role in the documentary.
  • While Gillespie is shown in the role of an investigative journalist and the clip purports to give two sides of the story by allowing Oliver’s father to offer a brief rationale for his abductions, the content is heavily weighted towards the mother’s story and highlights the subjective nature of documentaries. Internationally, there are also many groups trying to raise awareness of the plight of fathers whose access to their children is restricted or obstructed by the mothers.

This clip starts approximately 34 minutes into the documentary.

Jacqueline Gillespie travels on a train on her way to interview Elisa Pridmore, Oliver Malkin’s mother.
Jacqueline Gillespie (as voice-over) Oliver Malkin has been abducted so many times, he’s been made a protected ward of the British High Court. He was anxious to talk to us but we arrived to find court officials had banned all media interviews.

Jacqueline arrives at Elisa and Oliver’s home to interview Elisa.
Landevant, Brittany, 16th April…
Jacqueline (voice-over) However, there was no such ban on his mother explaining Oliver’s horrifying history of violent abduction.
Elisa Pridmore, Oliver’s mother He’s been snatched by his father three times since we’ve lived in France and once when we were living in England. We’d only been in France two days. I’d collected Oliver from school and I was travelling home with him when our car was ambushed and there was a gang of people, including my ex-husband. My car was put out of action – the tyre was punctured – and Oliver was basically dragged screaming from the back seat. Um…
Jacqueline So he didn’t want to go?
Elisa No, he was screaming for me and he was bundled into a car and driven off. And he was abroad most of the time.
Jacqueline How did you get him back?
Elisa By chance – he and his father had booked into a hotel under a false name and the receptionist was suspiscious because she recognised Oliver’s father and called the police.

Footage shows Oliver riding his bike.
Jacqueline What happened during the second kidnap? What were the circumstances there?
Elisa Oliver was playing in the garden in front of the house and a car sped into the drive. They bundled Oliver into the car, sprayed CS gas at our dogs and just disappeared with him.
Jacqueline He was gone for another – how long, how many months?
Elisa 19 months. He didn’t go to school during the whole 19 months. He didn’t mix with other children. There was a secret room where they’d go if people came to the house. There was a report done by a clinical child psychiatrist who specifically said that Oliver was close to suffering psychosis because of what had happened to him, that if his father were to take him again it could be very dangerous to Oliver’s mental health. However, his father did take him again. It was as he’d got off the school bus. We’d gone down to meet him but before he got to us he was grabbed from behind by his father and an accomplice and he was bundled into a car and driven off at speed.
Jacqueline Where was he taken this time?
Elisa Eventually to Egypt.

Egypt, December 1993…
Oliver, his father and a woman are walking beside a pool.
Peter Malkin The snatching of Oliver didn’t do him any harm at all because at the very least it means that it’s a holiday with his father, who he hasn’t seen again for seven months.

Peter Malkin is taken away by police on his return to Britain.
Jacqueline (as voice-over) Oliver’s father, Peter Malkin, eventually left Egypt and was arrested in Britain. He was later sentenced to prison.

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