Monday, November 13, 2017

DOC NYC Spotlight: A Better Man

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eighth year in New York City from November 9th-16th.

A Better Man
Directed by Attiya Khan and Lawrence Jackman
Festival Screenings

Over the past few months, numerous allegations have been put forward accusing a number of professionals in the entertainment industry of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault. These disturbing revelations have been met with, for the most part, denials from the accused and promises that whatever inappropriate behavior did happen has already been corrected or will be through therapy or treatment. Confronting an abuser of any kind is an extremely difficult feat, and few would be willing to sit across from those they know they have hurt and respond only when prompted to do so.

Two decades ago, Attiya Khan was involved with Steve, a man who presented in a friendly manner to her friends but would subject her to tremendous violence and physical abuse in the privacy of their home. Khan describes being scared even to look up while at school for fear that he might think that she was staring at another man and take out his jealousy on her when they left that public space. Years after their relationship ended, Khan approached Steve and asked him whether he would be willing to talk about the brutal truths of their relationship on camera, and was surprised when his answer was yes.

This is a truly extraordinarily and unparalleled experience, one which finds Khan interviewed on camera about the specifics of what Steve did to her as he sits next to her, reacting silently to the many horrible things that he hears. Much of it is deeply distressing, but Steve never tries to deny anything or explain something away, admitting instead that he doesn’t remember the extent of it or that it did happen exactly as she said. This is an incredible forum for both of them to confront the truth of what happened without seeking commentary or defense from either side but instead grappling with the irreversible and the unforgettable.

This is a highly upsetting but deeply important film, one that features an opportunity for someone to gain unexpected healing from talking about the worst things that she has experienced. There is much to be gleaned from the fact that these conversations were able to take place, and it speaks to the crucial work that Khan does to help support those who have suffered abuse. It will surely be triggering for many and should therefore be viewed with caution, but this is an exceptional and extremely powerful experiment.


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