'Home Truth': Film Review

Courtesy of ITVS
Tells a story both tragic and inspiring.

Katia Maguire and April Hayes' documentary chronicles the legal efforts of a mother to gain justice for her three young daughters killed by their father.

When a documentary opens with an excerpt from a 911 call, you know instantly that you’re going to be in for a difficult experience. Such is the case with Katia Maguire and April Hayes’ feature, which recently received its world premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Chronicling the years-long efforts of a mother to strengthen the legal rights of victims of domestic violence, Home Truth is a harrowing and deeply moving portrait of a woman determined not to let her children’s deaths be in vain.

The above mentioned call came from Jessica Gonzales (now Lenahan) in 1999 in Castle Rock, Colo. She had become frantic with worry when her three young daughters went missing. They apparently had been abducted by her former husband, against whom she had taken out a restraining order on domestic violence grounds. The police, noting that her ex had the right to see his children once a week, refused to take action. That is, until the father showed up at the police station and engaged in a bloody shootout that left him dead. The bodies of his little girls, who he had shot to death, were found in his van. The film includes heartbreaking footage of their funeral, including the nearly unbearable sight of three small caskets slowly being wheeled into a church.

Jessica sued the police department and the town for $30 million. Over the course of four years, the case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 against her. During his announcement of the decision in a case concerning the brutal murders of three young girls, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, that conservative legal paragon, took the opportunity to crack a joke.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jessica, by then officially diagnosed with PTSD, found a more receptive legal body in the form of an international rights tribunal, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This time Jessica won, leading to such important developments as the U.S. Department of Justice issuing its first-ever guidelines about the better prevention of domestic violence.

It’s an inherently powerful story that’s well told in this absorbing film, which benefits greatly from the constant presence of its compelling and sympathetic central figure. Despite the severe emotional pain caused by reliving the tragic events over and over, Jessica became an important voice for domestic violence sufferers. Her inspiring indomitability and courage make Home Truth essential viewing.

Production companies: Adequate Images, Independent Television Service, Latino Public Broadcasting
Directors-producers: April Hayes, Katia Maguire
Screenwriters: April Hayes, Katia Maguire, Becky Laks
Executive producers: Sally Jo Fifer, Sandie Viquez Pedlow
Music: West Dylan Thordson
Editor: Becky Laks
Venue: Human Rights Watch Film Festival

70 minutes

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