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Chatting with filmmaker Chico Colvard

Published: April 23, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.


Director Chico Colvard has received great acclaim for his inaugural film, the documentary “Family Affair,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by Oprah Winfrey’s new cable network OWN. “Family Affair” documents his family’s coming to terms with the discovery that Colvard’s father had sexually abused his sister, a revelation that shattered his family when he was 10 years old.

Colvard will appear at Brandeis on Monday, April 26th, for a Q&A session following a screening of his film at the Wasserman Cinematheque at 7 p.m. Colvard recently discussed his film with Arts, Etc.

Arts, Etc.: Why did you decide to make this film?

Chico Colvard: I don’t really feel like it was a choice. It wasn’t really possible for me to not make this film. I think that, in a lot of ways, the films I want to continue to make … are the ones that keep you up in the middle of the night. [This was] a personal story, and I think it was really motivated from a place of fear, a fear that, if I didn’t turn back and confront my past, it would haunt me forever … So I created an opportunity to pursue the story through the medium of film.

Arts: How did your family react to your decision to turn this into a documentary?

CC: Some of them have reacted differently at different stages. Some have consistently supported the project from the early stages to now. I think in the beginning they didn’t actually know—and I didn’t know—that I was thinking of making this [specific kind of] film. That was somewhat deliberate on my part, [as I wanted] to approach this with a certain kind of openness to the ambiguity of the story and a[n]… openness to allowing the subjects to inform me about what the story was about, as opposed … to [my] imposing hypotheticals to real-life situations. There are some assumptions I could’ve made about issues I address in the film, but how these situations are addressed I didn’t want to have any control over.

My sisters were the primary people I was concerned about in how they would respond to the film—that they were safe and that they knew I was telling their story with care and authenticity … I’ve included at the end of the film a sort of split-screen and wide-shot of them watching the film [with] a close-up of each of the sisters… It’s a sort of attempt to eloquently answer the question you asked. They were at Sundance and involved in a couple of the Q&As, and I think it’s been very healing for me and very freeing for me. Therapeutic, but not at the expense of the audience. For my sisters to have their story told has been very empowering for them and transformative.

Arts: How do you feel about the success your first film has encountered?

CC: You couldn’t ask for a better coming-out party. It’s very humbling and a great thing—a real honor and a real privilege to be among some of these [other films]. To walk out of Sundance with a broadcast deal from Oprah and to have established some real connections with broadcasters that were interested in the film is … a great entry into a business I’m very passionate about. [The best part has been] how receptive audiences have been to the film and how much it really seems to resonate with them. It hasn’t been so much people saying they were molested as a kid but people saying that they grew up with abusive or neglectful parents and [finding themselves] really connecting with the piece—and how that relationship and betrayal has gone on for so many years unresolved, and the longer it goes unresolved the more complacent and conflicted they feel. I feel honored that this film has given people permission to find the courage to stand up before an audience of 400 to 900 strangers … I don’t know if I could’ve done that [myself] nine years ago.

Arts: What ideas do you want your audience to walk away from your film with?

CC: There are some people with good intentions who would say that the solution to these kind of family crises, whatever they may be—child sexual molestation or alcoholism or a dad who was never home—would advocate that the way to overcome [these issues] is to break the silence and speak up. I say yes and no. I think it has to be on the terms and conditions set by the victim and survivor. Not everyone can live in a light of truth without real consequences.

For some people—especially those who are presently enduring whatever their betrayal is—there is a real price that comes with … this kind of disclosure. This is not for everyone, and I respect that. I’m not advocating that everyone come clean and confront their parents. For some people, that might mean getting sent to foster care or being abandoned or being stricken from the will … or no house, no home, no job … For those who feel that they are at a place where they can get the kind of support where they do disclose this type of family crisis, I’d like to think that my film in some way will empower them and give them permission to do that.