Film Review: Private Violence

Photo courtesy of Markay Media

Photo courtesy of Markay Media

By: Mitch Ryals

Columbia, Mo. – Domestic violence is one of those topics. Like suicide, rape, addiction and molestation, it’s difficult to talk about. Victims are embarrassed and scared. They might be pitied or thought weak. Friends and neighbors whisper and pass judgment. “She must have done something to deserve it.” “If she’s stupid enough to stay, it’s her own fault.” “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”

The film Private Violence, directed by Cynthia Hill, aims to answer these questions and shed light on an issue that is too common and too commonly ignored. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Hill weaves together multiple narratives of women who’ve experienced domestic abuse as she follows domestic violence advocate Kit Gruelle while she talks with battered women, their families and attorneys.

Audiences waiting to see a film about such a difficult topic might be anxious about just how graphic the film will be. How much will it show? As Hill stated in a Q&A session following her film’s screening at Jesse Hall during the True False Film Fest on March 2, she prefers not to use recreated scenes. Although there are some recreations in the film, none recreate physical abuse. Hill shows domestic violence’s debilitating effects through evidentiary photographs, an audio recording and firsthand accounts of physical abuse from the victims.

One of the most explicitly gruesome and evocative moments in the film is an audio recording played over scenes of blurred landscape. The recording, which is 22 minutes long but only plays for a minute or two in the film, captures the final moments of an upper middle-class woman’s life before her estranged husband kills her. Hill’s reason for including this particular victim’s story is to show that domestic violence doesn’t just happen among poor, uneducated families. It can affect people from all walks of life, regardless of race, religion or social standing.

The 81-minute film takes the audience through the rollercoaster experience that domestic abuse evokes. Women tell, in detail, how they were physically and verbally abused. There are moments of triumph and relief on the faces of these women when they’re set free from constant fear once abusers are behind bars. The film also shows frustrations with the court system as advocates and victims struggle to prove that injuries sustained were “serious injuries” and can be prosecuted above a misdemeanor crime.

Emotionally provocative and compelling, Private Violence is necessarily raw and realistic without stepping over the line to sensationalism. It celebrates women who are able to find enough strength to speak out and encourage others who might struggle in silence. There is an end, and there is help.

After the screening at Jesse Hall, Hill was accompanied on stage by Gruelle and Deanna Walters, one of the main characters of the film and a domestic abuse victim. As Gruelle, a domestic violence victim herself, and Walters stood together and answered questions from the audience, each represented different stages of life after domestic abuse. Gruelle, many more years removed from the abuse, talked loudly and with conviction. Walters was less confident and spoke more softly, though she received a standing ovation when she announced her progress on a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of North Carolina.

To get involved and learn more about domestic violence, visit True North’s website. True North is an organization that provides resources and shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

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