Winner of the Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights at the 2014 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the Silver Heart Award at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival, Cynthia Hill's Private Violence boldly and relentlessly explores one of the most disturbing aspects of American life - the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home. Every day in the United States, at least four women are killed in intimate partner violence or domestic violence or domestic abuse or whatever term you choose to use. If you're like many Americans, at some point you've read about a brutal case in your local newspaper and found yourself mumbling the question "Why didn't she just leave?"
Hill's 80-minute feature documentary shatters the logic behind this question by exploring two cases in particular, those of Deanna and Kit Gruelle, the latter now a noted advocate who spends her life seeking justice for all women.
Private Violence is a difficult film to watch precisely because it should be a difficult film to watch. Director Cynthia Hill doesn't hold back in presenting the harsh and brutal realities of domestic violence and the scars, physical and emotional, that are left behind.
The film works largely because of the remarkable strength and vulnerability of Ms. Walters, a remarkable mother of Martina who experienced almost unfathomable abuse at the hands of her husband Robbie including a final 4 1/2 day campaign of brutality that crossed statelines and eventually led to Robbie's arrest of federal kidnapping and interstate domestic violence charges.
As a mild disclaimer, I do want to acknowledge that while I feel as if I'm giving Private Violence an honest critique, a charitable effort that I work with also served as a sponsor for the film's screening at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. The film has played at a slew of film festivals and had its debut on HBO just last evening, October 20th, an appropriate setting for such an authentic and challenging film.
Private Violence is, for me, a film that will initiate discussions rather than simply provide answers - Why does he abuse? What can the system do better? What can we do? Why do we turn away?
The filmmakers also intend the film to serve as an audience engagement campaign or, in other words, a film that leaves you not just wanting to do something but actually committing to doing so. There's an honesty with the filmmaking that is jarring. For example, scenes within a North Carolina shelter for women are unsettling because they leave you realizing that the women who choose to work in this field are constantly on the frontlines and constantly at risk themselves. On more than one occasion, I found myself sitting there and watching the screen wondering when someone was going to find their way into a shelter. On some level, it was like watching a horror film yet without the exploitation and with it being comprised of true to life stories.
For those concerned about the cause of intimate partner violence, and I wish that would be all of you, Private Violence is a gripping and disturbing film that will rattle around in your psyche' long after you've left the theater. The film has two more screenings here at the Heartland Film Festival -
- Friday, October 24th @ 1:15 pm at AMC Castleton
- Saturday, October 25th @ 1pm at AMC Castleton
For more information on the film, be sure to visit its website linked to in the credits to the left of this review.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic