Review: Extraordinarily personal doc ‘GROOMED’ comes to Discovery+ this Friday.

GROOMED

GROOMED is the devastatingly powerful story of filmmaker Gwen van de Pas as she returns to her hometown in search of answers about the man who sexually abused her as a child. To understand her ongoing traumas, Gwen travels to meet survivors, psychologists, and even a convicted sex offender. Produced by Gwen van de Pas, Bill Guttentag, and Dylan Nelson, GROOMED addresses a common yet little understood manipulation type called ‘grooming’, how to recognize it, and how to stop it. What begins as an exploration into grooming becomes a dramatic journey where Gwen faces unexpected revelations in her case, finally finds her anger, and boldly confronts the evil we’d rather ignore. Executive produced by Blumhouse in association with Yellow Dot Films.

Gwen Van De Pas’s trauma has never gone away. As an 11 year old, an older swim teammate groomed her. The term was one she only learned 20 years after the abuse occurred. To regain power, she returns to Holland to decide whether or not to report her abuser. Her life cannot move forward without healing. The insight Gwen gains from sitting down with her parents are very impactful. They’re able to explain that when at 17 years old Gwen told them about her abuse that they were at a crossroads based on her mental health. Their guilt is palpable. As a parent myself, I completely understand their desire to protect Gwen from self-harm first. This is not simply about her healing. This film is about the healing of everyone around her. Sexual abuse infiltrates entire families.

The structure of the doc takes us through the grooming bullet points one by one, through the words of a convicted sex offender and behavioral experts. (1. Target The Victim 2. Gain The Family’s Trust 3. Build A Relationship 4. Sexualize The Relationship 5. Maintain Control) She interviews other victims, of all ages, sex, and backgrounds. Not only is this a part of understanding just how pervasive sexual abuse is, but it was a chance for Gwen to feel less isolated for once. Speaking with psychologists, her ultimate goal is to finally report him, but she is rightfully afraid. The evidence she kept still has a profound emotional stronghold. Watching her battle the words and the intentions of her abuser is heartbreaking. She feels complicit and he groomed her to think that way. In their interviews, other victims express how it has affected them physically. Hospitalization, eating disorders, disassociative habits, physical intimacy, panic attacks are just the tip of the trauma iceberg.

This incredibly personal and powerful doc is something parents need to watch. It’s a film survivors should watch. Reporting is not easy. Retraumatization is one of the key factors in every single one of these cases. Gwen Van De Pas was brave. Groomed is her victory lap. If we could all just have a fraction of her courage, we might be able to prevent others from becoming victims. The cycle has to stop.

Streaming Exclusively on discovery+
March 18, 2021

DOC NYC review: ‘A Better Man’ is an emotionally raw healing session.

A BETTER MAN

US PREMIERE  While they were a couple, Steve exposed Attiya to terrifying daily verbal and physical abuse. Twenty years later, they revisit their relationship in an intimate, therapeutic context, walking through the physical — and emotional — spaces they once inhabited together. As Steve is put in a position to acknowledge and take responsibility for the abuse, will Attiya complete her long process of healing and be liberated from her demons? A Better Man explores the revelatory potential of involving the abuser in domestic violence prevention.

If you’ve ever been a victim, A Better Man feels surprising and cathartic. While this is  Attiya and Steve’s story, Attiya becomes our emotional surrogate. With so many victims coming forward in this tumultuous climate, especially over the past year, this film is very timely. 1 in 2 women has experienced physical, verbal, emotional and/or sexual abuse in her lifetime. To have the opportunity to revisit an old relationship in a safe and constructive environment might not be on everyone’s bucket list, but I know from firsthand experience that I would gladly take part in such a chance… but perhaps that is a hasty statement. Until it is real, these are just words. Attiya is a brave woman. Steve is a remorseful man. Let it be known, I am not a fan of Steve here, but do acknowledge that not every abuser would be so open and willing to offer a public apology and seek counseling sitting directly across from his victim. A Better Man is a film that is important for audiences to see and I for one hope that they absorb it for the powerful piece it truly is.

Official Site: https://abettermanfilm.com/

On Twitter: ABetterManFilm
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ABetterManFilm/
Director: Attiya Khan, Lawrence Jackman
Producer: Christine Kleckner, Justine Pimlott
Cinematographer: Iris Ng
Editor: Lawrence Jackman
Music: Lesley Barber
Running Time: 78
Language: English
Country: Canada
Year: 2017

Review: Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts

oscar shorts 2016Here I am back it after a brief hiatus and I’m happy that this year I am fortunate enough to bring you coverage of this year’s Oscar-nominated short films. Over the next few days, I will roll out reviews in each of the categories – documentary, animation and live action. Since I’m the resident documentary cat around here at Reel News Daily, I thought I would start off in that category. These films cover a variety of important and emotional topics from honor killings in Pakistan to the affects of Agent Orange on the youth of Vietnam to the fallout of capital punishment on the family of the accused. These five films hit every emotional string that you can imagine and leave an impression long after the viewing has ended.

Body Team 12

oscar shorts 16 - body team 12Body Team 12, directed by David Darg (as well as produced by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame as well as actress Olivia Wilde), follows one of the teams charged with removing the bodies of the those who died during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia this past year. It is shown through the perspective of the only female member. Body Team 12 is a moving portrait of community members doing an incredibly difficult and dangerous job to do their part to help curb the epidemic. That said, there are some incredibly difficult parts in watching family members of the deceased deal with the loss of their loved ones. The shortest film in the bunch at just over 13 minutes, Body Team 12 is able to pack a narrative wallop that hits you right in the gut, which makes it no wonder that it was nominated for an Oscar in this category. This film will debut on HBO in March.

 

Chau, beyond the lines

oscar shorts 16 chauChau, beyond the lines is a moving film about Chau, a young man whose body is deformed from his parents having been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Because of the degree of care he needed, Chau was sent to a peace camp (an orphanage of sorts) where other children – some more, others less – affected by Agent Orange live and are taken care of by a group of state-funded nurses. Chau is an artist at heart and spends his time dedicating himself to honing his craft, which isn’t easy because of the deformities that have affected his hands and arms. Every year, Chau submits a piece to a national contest for young artists across the country, each believing and hoping that he can win and garner some attention on the merits of his art, not his disabilities. Make no bones about it, this one is a difficult watch, but well worth it. This is a story that shows that nearly 45 years after the end of the war in Vietnam, the price is still paid for the hostilities. Chau has an unbelievably positive outlook on life and begs us to all ask the question, “why can’t we do the same?” Written and directed by Courtney Marsh.

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

oscar shorts 16 - lanzmann posterAdam Benzine‘s short treatise on director Claude Lanzmann and the making of his seminal documentary on the Holocaust, Shoah. The director queries Lanzmann and others (including fellow documentarian Marcel Ophüls who calls Lanzmann a megalomaniac) about the struggles of making of the film as well as its impact. What can be sure is that Shoah is indeed a masterpiece and widely considered one of the best documentaries ever made. The 12 years that went into filming and editing this film took a toll on Lanzmann who was never the same after making it. From having to surreptitiously record conversations with former Nazis to getting beaten by some who found out his game to having to listen to the stories of those who survived concentration camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz, it’s no wonder. An incredilby affecting piece, Lanzmann is a person worthy of documenting, which makes sense since his life was devoted to the same thing. This film debuts on HBO in May.

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

oscar shorts 16 - girl in the riverDirected by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is by far the film that I found had to most effect on me in this category. After a few contextual shots of the city of Gujranwala, Pakistan (population 5 million), the film opens with Saba Qaiser in the emergency room of the hospital, getting her face stitched up from a gunshot wound. Saba had been attacked by her father and uncle in an effort to kill her for dishonoring their family by marrying someone of a social class they didn’t believe high enough and disobeying her father’s orders. The film opens with a statistic that nearly every year, 1,000 of the so-called honor killings take place in Pakistan despite being illegal. Saba was fortunate in some ways to survive this attack. Fortunate in that she lived, but unfortunate that she must now face the pressing question of whether she should forgive her father and uncle and let them free from jail where they can essentially attack her again if they please. She is adamant against forgiving them and even goes so far as to say they should be killed in a public market as an example to any others considering doing this. However, the reality is her mother and sisters face a lifetime of shame because of her deeds and with her father the sole breadwinner in the house, they would likely not be able to support themselves. A decision that is heavier than anything I can imagine. That Obaid-Chinoy was able to access Saba throughout the entire ordeal makes this film really quite stunning and heartbreaking all the same. If I had a vote for the Oscar, this one gets mine. This film will also debut on HBO in March.

The trailer for this film can be found here.

Last Day of Freedom

oscar shorts 16 - last day of freedomThe final nominee is Last Day of Freedom directed by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, is one of the more innovative films nominated in this category I’ve seen to date. It is animated, a kind of mixture of recreations a la Errol Morris with a something that resembles the style of Richard Linklater‘s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. The film allows Bill Babbitt to tell the story of his brother, Manny, a Vietnam vet who was arrested for murder and sentenced to death. The circumstances surrounding Manny‘s actions were colored by his PTSD and schizophrenia diagnosis, but somehow he still found himself on death row. Bill‘s account gives such a stark and emotional rendering of what it is like to live in the shadow of a loved one’s violent actions, that it wasn’t just the victim and their family who have suffered, but also the loved one’s of the perpetrator. Not only that, this films serves as a stark reminder, one that we seem to see all too many times these days, that justice is not always served.

 

By no means are these films uplifting as they all expose a piece of misery of that sticks with their subjects every single day. What they do do, as I think only documentaries can do, is shed light on subject matter that isn’t easy to face or confront and allow it to be seen in a way that is neither heavy-handed nor flippant. These films help us remind us that even at times when things are the shittiest, that humanity can still succeed. While I don’t have access to the many films that were submitted for this award, I can say that these films represent the documentary spirit well.