by Danielle Connor
Between playground dates with his daughter and appearances around the world to discuss his acclaimed documentary film “Family Affair”, member Chico Colvard gave WIFV/NE an interview to discuss his film’s explosion, feelings as a first time filmmaker, and advice for other filmmakers about personal documentary.
The Boston Globe called “Family Affair” one of the most psychologically complex films of the year. Recounting experiences of his family’s own traumatic past, the film is intensely raw. It all began with a camcorder, and Colvard searching for answers. Who knew that 9 years later it would end up premiering at Sundance?
Colvard’s friends and advisors warned him that nothing could prepare him for the experience of premiering his film at Sundance. While he braced himself for the media onslaught, he chose not to develop a major marketing plan or strategy. Flying under the radar felt to him like keeping with the narrative, the way sexual abuse does in countless families. Today “Family Affair” is anything but a secret – making headlines with the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) purchasing broadcast rights, festival awards mounting, theatrical runs pending, and rising international demand.
He describes his vision and drive to tell this story as gnawing, and at some point during the 9 years of production it began to take up all of his time. He jokes that his friends stopped inviting him to parties because they knew he was working on the film. At times the process felt crazy to him – walking away from a job, benefits, and security with little practical filmmaking experience. “There’s a period of time when you’re completely lying to yourself and the whole world that you’re a filmmaker because chances are it’s not going to make it.” And today, his imperfect 4×3 footage is screening across the world. “This family is a series of imperfections,” Colvard says regarding his process to embrace technical glitches in the footage. “It created a continuity. It became the essence of the film.”
He commends the bravery of the programmers who choose “Family Affair”, and most of all thanks audiences for standing behind the film. “People will come up to me afterwards and say that they were not sexually assaulted, but they can identify with what it means to accommodate a parent who has betrayed them. For me it really opened the doors for who is my audience.” That’s because the story explored the complexity of forgiveness, and despite moments of external pressure on Colvard to impose a finite conclusion, he stuck to his guns and kept it real. There is no easy ending.
Not every story is fit for a personal documentary, and of course the nightmare is a self-indulgent mess. “You really have to take off your personal connection to the story, remove that hat, and put on your storytelling hat, your producer’s hat. I began to find the common connections, the universal themes. At the end of the day you have to be true to yourself and your vision.”