Danielle Sturk’s latest documentary offers a brave exploration of taboo questions that exist quietly on the periphery of youth culture. She opens Why? Sexual Violence and Teens with a statistic: “89% of reported victims of sexual assault are female. 98% of reported sexual assaults are perpetrated by males.” Sturk looks to young men and women to investigate the structures that uphold a prevailing culture of sexualized violence. The Franco-Manitoban filmmaker has been creating documentaries, experimental films, and multi-part series since 2004. Her films have screened widely on the festival circuit and she has won awards at Yorkton Film Festival and Hot Docs for works like the animated hybrid El Toro (2018) and the meditative essay Ciel(s) (2011).
Why? takes its form through a series of interviews with those directly and indirectly impacted by sexualized violence. In on-camera interviews, young men share reflections on masculinity and a society that enables sexualized violence. Alongside these interviews, young women share in voiceover a range of lived experiences, from catcalling to intimate partner violence. Contrasting the interviews with the young men, these voiceovers are covered by stark and choppy visuals of urban landscapes. What results is a pertinent examination of the role of the bystander: young men are tasked with facing head-on the underlying structures that contribute to the lived experiences of their female counterparts.
The focus on the bystander culminates with three young men reading aloud statistics about sexualized violence. “In Canada, 70% of reported sexual assault victims are 18 years of age or younger,” reads one. “33% of women have been sexually assaulted at least once since the age of 15,” reads another. As the readers react, the film invites viewers to consider their own complicity in upholding a culture of sexualized violence.
Why? is a question all Canadians must face. Sturk’s film lands as a call to action. “Because,” as she notes in the film statement, “things only change when people start talking and taking action.”
Content Warning: This film deals with themes and shares lived experiences of sexualized violence. Viewer discretion is advised.