Sundance Film Festival


FAMILY AFFAIR (U.S. Documentary Competition)

FAMILY AFFAIR (U.S. Documentary Competition)FAMILY AFFAIR (U.S. Documentary Competition)

It makes sense that Chico Colvard’s first-person documentary was picked up by OWN, Oprah Winfrey’s new cable network, given the surface parallels with last year’s Oprah-endorsed Sundance hit PRECIOUS. As a little boy, the filmmaker accidentally shot one of his sisters in the leg and, in so doing, blew the lid on a family secret. His father, an African American former GI who grew up in segregated Mississippi, had been sexually abusing his three sisters for years, unbeknownst to their mother, a German Jew. At first glance, FAMILY AFFAIR seems like yet another dysfunctional-family home movie, but it’s willing to ask some unexpectedly tough questions about abuse and its aftermath.

FAMILY AFFAIR (U.S. Documentary Competition)FAMILY AFFAIR (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Colvard is striving here not just to understand the events that led to the disintegration of his family but — even more so — to grasp how his sisters are able to welcome their father into their adult lives, while Colvard, an outsider in the incestuous trauma that defined his family, remained estranged for years. Are his sisters just better at forgiving and moving on? Or are their normal, even protective relationships with the man who abused them a sign of how damaged they actually are? FAMILY AFFAIR is not much to look at — the shoddy shooting often makes the grim material even more punishing — but it’s moving and troubling in equal measure. Colvard may have conceived of his documentary as a therapeutic exercise, but it’s a testament to the honesty and bravery of his filmmaking that there’s very little about the end result that feels remotely cathartic.