TAMPA — Circus performer/filmmaker Stewart Lippe doesn't clown around on the subject of domestic violence.
"It's a major issue in the world," said Lippe, who gained a global perspective of male aggression when he performed with Circus Manduhai in Mongolia. A gymnast friend, Chimgee Haltarhuu brought the troupe to remote towns to help women in abusive relationships.
"Mongolia is a very traditional, paternalistic society and you don't talk about it," said Lippe. "Some towns refused to let us come … they didn't want the issue brought up."
Lippe, accompanied by his son Cort, now 23, filmed their experience, turning it into a documentary, "The Circus Saved My Life." It will be shown for free on Saturday (July 22) at noon at Tampa Theatre.
A panel discussion will follow the 24-minute movie, facilitated by the staff at the Spring of Tampa Bay certified domestic violence shelter.
"The film is really Chimgee's heroic journey from life-threatening marriage to success, personally and professionally," Lippe said. She escaped because she was selected to join the Mongolian State Circus and her husband was not.
"She left him in 1991 taking their son, age 5 at the time," Lippe said, "and came to the U.S. with Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey. She founded Circus Manduhai in 2002 and began Mission Manduhai in 2010. She resides in Minneapolis.
Mission Manduhai drew crowds of Mongolians to free circus shows where they learned about shelters, counseling and legal assistance. Such information was not available to Haltarhuu nor her mother who also endured domestic abuse in her home.
"Unfortunately, what happened to Chimgee and her son in Mongolia also happens to women and kids every day in Tampa," said Mindy Murphy, CEO of the Spring. "Our panelists will discuss how domestic violence is addressed or not addressed both here and around the world."
"The Circus Saved My Life" won a "best of the fest" designation when it premiered at the 36th annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival earlier this year.