“There’s nothing about that day that was real,” begins Chico Colvard. He means the day that he shot his older sister Paula in the leg. “I do remember distinctly pulling the rifle up and pointing it at her head,” he adds, over photos of the family’s kitchen in Radcliff, Kentucky, circa 1978 as well as footage from The Rifleman a favorite TV show then. He remembers thinking, too, “The rifleman wouldn’t do that.” If Colvard doesn’t remember pulling the trigger, he does remember the sound: “It was just really deafening. I was a kid. I mean up until that moment anyway. I was just a kid.”
Colvard’s documentary, Family Affair, goes on to consider how kids are kids—and specifically, how kids survive terrible situations, here, Colvard’s father’s longtime sexual abuse of all three of his daughters. Premiering 1 March on Oprah Winfrey’s Network, the film is profound, subtle, and relentless as it looks back on his own and his sisters’ childhoods. In interviews with Paula, Angie, and Chiquita, he asks how they’ve come to forgive their abuser, even as you see Chici downing her meds (she’s diagnosed schizophrenic, worries that her rages might affect her own children) or close shots of Paula’s scarred leg, still debilitating even after 22 surgeries and two bone grafts. Colvard doesn’t have to say that he feels guilty over her ongoing pain, or his ignorance as a boy: his sisters kept their horrors from him, hoping to protect him. As Colvard seeks to understand his sisters’ experiences, they can only begin to explain. “All of us had to go in our own directions and we had to go there by ourselves,” one narrates over a series of literalizing images—roads and houses shot from a car. “We’ve all taken our own roads and now these roads are leading back to each other.” Angie adds, “When we all got separated, we lost our lifelines. As dysfunctional as it was. we needed each other.” As they come to see this, they come to see one another differently, their stories coming together and apart at the same time. As much as Family Affair seems poised for revelation, it is at last focused on the sisters’ survival and generosity.
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