Dark Secrets

A young girl is severely wounded by her brother in a freak accident. Her family is by her side at the hospital, uncertain whether she will live or die. Fearful herself, she stuns everyone by revealing the sexual abuse she and her sisters had endured for years.

From its earliest unsettling moments, Chico Colvard’s brilliant personal documentary, FAMILY AFFAIR, hits you with the kind of shock and surprise most non-fiction films wait a good 20 minutes to reveal. But the point of this film is to move past the expected (or unexpected), and become fully immersed in the pained reality of a family attempting to heal their complex relationships and broken trusts.

Trying to understand why the shadows of ones formative years extend for decades, shaping every nuance of life, of living, of learning, is nothing new – especially not for documentary filmmakers. It’s too irresistible a topic not to explore; why it is that short term events can doom or reward us to a seemingly pre-determined existence will always be fodder for non-fiction filmmakers.

With FAMILY AFFAIR, we get something special in Mr. Colvard’s raw talent, coupled with the extraordinary access he has to his family. His exploration of the lives of his sisters, his father, and eventually his mother (estranged since the “betrayal” of her daughters loyalty to their abuser), is ours. It becomes a longer than expected journey, as we learn patience and share the director’s confusion over whether  he’s seeking  answers, redemption, or just a need for closure amidst some really ugly truths behind the word “forgiveness.”

FAMILY AFFAIR surprised me with its intimacy, beauty, and bravery, as it tackled some of the most taboo of subjects in ways that will make most uncomfortable. Making the monster human, sexism, race and sexual abuse are only part of it, as Colvard’s film reveals a pattern of generational incest that was often simply accepted as “the way things were.”

FAMILY AFFAIR has generated much discussion and commentary everywhere it has been screened and is not to be missed and kicks off regular SilverDocs programming Tuesday morning; with a second opportunity Thursday evening.

– C.W. Prather is a member of the SilverDocs screening committee.

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