When we sat down to talk with with Sundance documentary programmers David Courier and Caroline Libresco, one film they couldn't stop talking about was Chico Colvard's FAMILY AFFAIR. The film might have flown a bit under the radar coming into this year's festival which is stuffed with bold-faced filmmakers (even though it has one of those, Liz Garbus, as a producer), but it quickly became one of the most discussed documentaries of the fest's opening weekend.
Writing for the Boston Globe, Wesley Morris said that you sit through a cliched, "same-old, same-old" film at Sundance for the hope of stumbling upon a film like Colvard's:
"Thus far, the great discovery is a documentary called FAMILY AFFAIR. Movie families come to this festival from all over to be dysfunctional. But Chico Colvard’s belongs in the hall of fame. One afternoon in Kentucky in 1978, high on the fumes of “Gunsmoke,’’ Colvard picked up a gun that belonged to his father and shot his sister in the leg.
It was an accident. But it blew a hole in a festering family secret. His father had been molesting his three sisters for years. As adults, the women keep him tenuously in their lives. The movie explores the trauma in a series of conversations Colvard, who teaches law at Boston University, has with his siblings, his estranged father, and mother. It’s astonishing."
Explains Pamela Cohn at Hammer to Nail:
"Except for a haunting and beautiful score by composer Miriam Cutler, and a few artfully done recreations of certain memories the girls describe, the film is pared-down, gritty, never devolving into anything slick or overly produced. And except for one brief visit with Colvard to a doctor who specializes in treating victims of long-term incest (and I have a feeling this was something that was imposed in the interests of marking this as an “issue” film), the documenting of this story, the collaboration inherent in the telling of it, with everything in plain sight, is its strongest aspect, its healing force, a sort of gift that Colvard bestows on the three sisters who, in turn, share with him the utter hell that has been their lives, telling their story with dignity, grace, humor, refusing, at least on the outside, to live as life-long victims of a childhood probably very few of us would have survived intact."
From John Anderson, writing behind the paywall at Variety:
"In FAMILY AFFAIR, first-time helmer Chico Colvard uses enormous sensitivity, as well as a plunderer's gift for seizing the revelatory moment in chronicling his siblings' incestuous plight and his father's crimes. The docu he has made will shock even the most jaded auds, disgust many and generate righteous indignation in an era when such sentiments might seem passe. What it lacks is the visual material needed to construct cinema. But with a likely future on TV and DVD, that may not matter much; it's brave film, regardless of limitations."
Brandon Harris in Filmmaker Magazine's Filmmaker Blog:
Finally, Robert Levin writes at Film School Rejects:
"Homemade in the most literal sense, emotionally wrenching in the extreme and observant of a milieu that just about never gets represented in cinema, Chico Colvard’s FAMILY AFFAIR is a small revelation. Sins of the father don’t just visit the children in Colvard’s corner of the high south and industrial midwest, they haunt them... Colvard’s doc is rudimentary from a technical standpoint, but his incredible story, sense of place and searching camera more than make up for it."
"FAMILY AFFAIR is a tough sit, a cinematic gut check filled with deplorable anecdotes, awash in regret, shame and sadness. Playing in Sundance’s U.S. Documentary Competition (and, if I had to bet, eventually finding a home on HBO
), it’s a decidedly unglamorous project, not the sort of thing that lends itself to enthusiastic buzz and endless dissections across the Internet. Yet, it’s a courageous achievement, a rare example of a filmmaker exposing himself without restrictions, unearthing a dark story of personal and universal significance, with just the right measure of hope."
indieWIRE profiles and interviews Colvard before the festival.