Home Events Documentaire Docuseries: The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping is Kubler’s

Docuseries: The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping is Kubler’s

In the years after filmmaker Katherine Kubler left The Academy at Ivy Ridge, she struggled to grapple with the trauma she endured there. Long accustomed to documenting her life on camera, she decided to make a film that would reify her experience. What she discovered was much bigger than the abuse enacted at Ivy Ridge. The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping is Kubler’s new docuseries that explores the unsettling and ever-evolving troubled teen industry, which continues to endanger children while promising parents that the so-called wayward youth of America can be “fixed.” The series is directed and narrated by Kubler, who, as a former student of The Academy at Ivy Ridge, also tells the story of her time at the school.

“For a long time, I wasn’t going to include my story because I just wanted to be a filmmaker and make it about this issue, not me,” Kubler tells Tudum. “But after all the years of research, when I found my own file and learned that it’s my very own program that left all this evidence behind, I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to be in this now.’”

When Kubler was in high school, she frequently found herself pushing the boundaries of her conservative Christian upbringing. “Drinking, smoking, sneaking out at night… typical teenager stuff,” Kubler says in the series. When she was kicked out of boarding school in 2004 during her sophomore year for having alcohol, she assumed that her father would come pick her up — but unbeknownst to her, it had been arranged that she go to an entirely new school. Two men handcuffed her and drove her directly to The Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg, New York.

They really drill into you this complete sense of shame, and that you’re this horrible person for being there. – Katherine Kubler

Advertised as a boarding school designed to rehabilitate troubled teens, The Academy at Ivy Ridge drastically curtailed students’ freedoms as soon as they set foot on campus. Not allowed to talk, smile, go outside, or communicate freely with the outside world, the school operated on a Byzantine system of merits that all but ensured the students wouldn’t be able to leave until they turned 18. According to Kubler, corporal punishment and abuse were rampant. Kubler spent 15 months there before her father finally withdrew her, and afterwards she struggled to grapple with the trauma she endured — and how to tell others her story.

“When I was in college, freshly out of the [Ivy Ridge] program, I remember my college roommate being like, ‘Katherine, you don’t need to explain the program to everyone you meet,’ ” Kubler says. “They really drill into you this complete sense of shame, and that you’re this horrible person for being there, so I felt like I had this disclaimer I needed to say to people.”

When Kubler graduated from film school in 2010, she discovered a book called Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids by Maia Szalavitz. The book spurred her to revisit an idea she’d had years ago, soon after she was enrolled at The Academy: To create a documentary about what had happened to her. The project lay dormant for several years due to budget issues, but in 2020, Kubler learned that the Academy at Ivy Ridge had been totally abandoned after its closure in 2009. What’s more: All of the student files there had been left intact within, including her own. The discovery of these abandoned files gave Kubler a tangible way to connect the broader story of the troubled teen industry to her own personal experience, as well as the experiences of other people she connected with who’d also attended.

“There were no shortage of survivors willing to come forward to share their story for this documentary,” Kubler says. “There are so many incredible, important, powerful stories out there that people are finally ready to share with the world.”

Kubler says giving voice to these students stories is essential to the series — for many former students of The Academy at Ivy Ridge, as well as countless other students at similar institutions across the United States and abroad. While The Academy at Ivy Ridge has been gone for over 15 years, there are hundreds of other similar entities that are preying on families to this day.

“There are glimmers of hope, but these places are like whack-a-mole. You get one shut down and it’ll open again under a new name, sometimes in the same building with the same staff,” Kubler says. Today, there are some strides being made toward change with the proposed Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which would establish minimum standards for children in residential treatment. This would include: designating a work group to make recommendations on the length of stays, use of restraints, and seclusion; and collecting outcome-oriented data –– such as discharge setting and ability to be safely maintained in school and community –– at least six months after discharge.

Still, Kubler says, it’s likely there are “more regulations in place to get a license to give manicures than there are to house and treat children in residential treatment.” Ultimately, she says, the solution lies in awareness.

“One thing people can do to take action is to contact their representatives to get this bill passed and push for oversight and regulation into this industry,” she says. “The program was so traumatizing, a lot of us tried to forget about it and pretend it didn’t happen. But now, people are starting to speak out.”

Click HERE to watch or for more information


Mar 05 2024


All Day

Local Time

  • Timezone: America/Toronto
  • Date: Mar 05 2024
  • Time: All Day