Hot Docs

Relative Review: Giving Survivors a Voice

Hot Docs 2022

3 mins read

Dir: Tracey Arcabasso Smith
(USA, 72 min.)
Programme: Hidden Histories (International Premiere)


Sexual assault, the failure of the justice system to make perpetrators accountable and the full extent of this epidemic of violence against women has been covered extensively in documentaries. But this story of a woman’s determination to talk to her family about abuse inside of it adds a new dimension to the discussion.

Tracey Arcabasso Smith goes back to the home of her first family to tell them outright that she was sexually assaulted many times while she was growing up. She asks her mother, her grandmother, her aunts, her cousins if they knew that or if such a thing had ever happened to them. Some are close-mouthed but most say, absolutely, yes.

The thing is, as Smith makes clear, no victim was ever held down at gunpoint. The male handsy-ness in this boisterous Italian family was an everyday occurrence. The women knew it, and though they didn’t call their family members on their behaviour, they did try to prevent it – Arcabasso Smith’s grandmother admits that there was a reason why she never allowed the boys to babysit.

As is often the case in these situations, especially when her assailant graduated from kissing her to shoving his hand down her pants, Arcabasso Smith did tell her priest, who counselled her to do nothing. As for her family, many of her female relatives wouldn’t tell anyone what was happening in order to protect the perpetrator. He was family, after all. Some saw no need to speak out because they felt the assaults didn’t affect their lives. It took Smith until she was in her 30s to try to tell her story. She says she waited because desired stronger connections with her older male cousins, especially given her father’s absence in her life.

This exploration of so-called less violent sexual assaults and how they’re managed makes for a unique entry into the documentary canon. But the gold here is the cache of home movies that Smith has unearthed to create a backdrop for her interviews. They’re taken at family get-togethers of all kinds, barbecues, pool outings, weddings where everyone appears to be having a good time.

But look more closely. The girls and women are consistently being grabbed, groped and manhandled. See how one man pulls his resistant wife to him to grab a kiss. Notice how many times this kind of thing is going on. Watch how the males are looking at their female relatives.

The evidence is there. This doc puts it into perspective.

Relative screened at Hot Docs 2022.

Susan G. Cole is a playwright, broadcaster, feminist commentator and the Books and Entertainment editor at NOW Magazine, where she writes about film. She is the author of two books on pornography and violence against women: Power Surge and Pornography and the Sex Crisis (both Second Story books), and the play A Fertile Imagination. She is the the editor of Outspoken (Playwrights Canada Press), a collection of lesbian monologues from Canadian plays. Hear her every Thursday morning at 9 AM on Talk Radio 640’s Media and the Message panel or look for her monthly on CHTV’s Square Off debate.

Previous Story

Hunting in Packs Review: She, Too.

Next Story

Beautiful Scars Takes Lead in Hot Docs Audience Award Race

Latest from Blog

0 $0.00