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Family Affair -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- One can easily understand why "Family Affair" was picked up at Sundance as the first film for Oprah Winfrey's Documentary Film Club on her upcoming network. A twisted tale of parental abuse and incest, Chico Colvard's film should be the starting point for many provocative discussions about violation, guilt and reconciliation. In examining his own family's history, Colvard does not go for easy answers. Like most things in life, the reasons are complex, and the ripples seemingly endless.

Colvard and his three older sisters grew up as Army brats. Their father, Elijah, was a gruff, authoritarian taskmaster whom Colvard saw as a kind of a G.I Joe character. But like most cartoon characters, that imagining proved incorrect. While living near Fort Knox in Kentucky, the 10-year-old boy emerged from the basement, where he was watching his favorite show, "The Rifleman," with one of his father's many weapons and accidentally shot his sister Paula in the leg. Thinking she was going to die, she revealed to the police that she had been a longtime victim of incest, as had her sisters. His father spent less than a year in prison but had created a lifetime of damage for all touched by his actions.

In 2002, while visiting one of his sisters for Thanksgiving, Colvard was shocked to see his father, whom he hadn't had any contact with for 15 years, warmly welcomed. This was the beginning of his documentary and inquiry into his father's legacy.

Little by little, his sisters reveal what their childhood was like, with their father molesting them from the time they were as young as 5 years old. What is perhaps even more shocking is the affection and warmth they now express toward their father, detailing how he was always gentle with them and the sex was, in fact, pleasurable.

As adults, they acknowledge the scars but are also prone to forgive him just so they can maintain a relationship. As one of them says, "everyone wants a mother and father."

Traveling to interview his long-estranged mother, now living in Wisconsin, his father and sisters, on numerous occasions, Colvard at times seems overcome with emotion and the responsibility of the project he's undertaken. His father expresses no remorse and the closest he comes to explaining himself is to say that this kind of thing just happened in his family growing up in segregated, rural Georgia.

Listening to the family, their explanations are never really satisfying, but with this kind of material, that may be too much to expect. Colvard has gone to great lengths to assemble the pieces but doesn't always connect the dots. Although it is undeniably powerful, the film has an unresolved, repetitious and somewhat disjointed quality. Presumably, the conclusions will come from the conversations that follow.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (OWN)
Production company: C-Line Films, Moxie Firecracker Films
Director: Chico Colvard
Writer: Chico Colvard
Producers: Chico Colvard, Liz Garbus
Executive producers: Dan Cogan, Abigail Disney
Director of photography: Chico Colvard
Music: Miriam Cutler
Editor: Rachael J. Clark
No rating, 80 minutes