In this International Year of the Family this is a timely film showing just how bad it can sometimes get behind the exterior calm and closed door of the family home. Looking primarily at domestic violence, the film seeks, amongst other things, to do something which is rarely done in this area, namely to connect the issues of ADULT TO ADULT violence with ADULT TO CHILD violence. The film argues that to keep these issues artificially separated is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate many important aspects of the overall problem of violence in the home.
When I came to the issue of male violence against women one of the first things I noticed was that it had become a political and ideological minefield. It was a land with only two sorts of people – “perpetrators” and “victims”, goodies and baddies, and it didn’t take a lot of subtlety to learn which gender were the bad guys. As Kate Gilmore (spokesperson, National Committee on Violence Against Women) says at the start of the program -“Violence against women will only stop when MEN stop being violent, not when SOMEBODY stops being violent, not when PEOPLE stop being violent, but when MEN stop being violent. And the MEN word is the crux of the issue.”
The central story in the film, is about an Italian family where the father, after a chase up the Princes Highway, ran his wife’s car off the road and then shot her in front of his three daughters, aged 7 to 12. These girls, now 12, 17 and 18, are remarkable not only in the way in which they have recovered from such a tragedy, but also in the way they tell their story. They bring a rawness of feeling and a childlike clarity to the discussion, which provides a necessary counter-balance to the rhetoric of the adult debate. They more than anyone, and especially more than ivory tower bureaucrats and ideologues, are qualified to speak about male violence. The film contrasts the way the girls choose to tell their story with the ideologically driven agenda coming out of Canberra via the National Committee on Violence Against Women and specifically their National Strategy on Violence Against Women. This crucial policy setting document was launched by the Prime Minister about a year ago.
There is an important debate emerging in this country, which is beginning to examine more closely the hardline feminist analysis that has shaped the key ideas expressed in the Strategy as well as dictated how the issue is communicated to the wider community. This debate is exposing a divide that is essentially between those who look inwards and those who look outwards. The film reveals a serious struggle underway between the “sociological” and the “psychological” ways of seeing. Interestingly, in this battle which side you’re on, is not so much determined by gender, as philosophical framework. It is not just men arguing with women, but also men with men, women against women.
Dawn Rowan for example, a therapist with over 20 years hands on experience in the area of family violence including the running of groups for violent men, is outspoken in her contempt for those she refers to as “the feminist Mafia in Canberra who control the policies” saying that they “are out of touch with the field and out of touch with reality! “Although Dawn describes herself as a “card carrying feminist for 20 years” she says of the hardline feminist analysis – “It makes no sense to me to look at just that analysis, and looking at just that analysis is in my view outdated and quite embryonic.”
As the impassioned and often controversial arguments flow freely between the likes of Kate Gilmore and Dawn Rowan, other key ideas are debated as the film introduces into the discussion Senator Rosemary Crowley, Minister for Family Services; broadcaster and author, Terry Lane; and Dr. Julie Jones, the child psychiatrist who has counselled for the last five years, the three sisters whose story underpins the film.The ensuing debate is hot and revealing, and must cause the audience to ask questions about the way in which this issue has been hijacked by hardliners, and to wonder about the harmful longer term effects if we do nothing to correct this situation.
Ultimately in the film I seek a layered response to the complex issue of violence, a response that looks at the full range of causal factors and does not mistake the search for causes as the hunt for excuses for men.The bottom line is that we are looking at a landscape littered with human suffering and emotional and physical carnage, and we should both recognise and support, all the people at work in our society who are trying to find solutions, trying to heal, trying to do whatever they can to make the violence stop.
As I say in the narration, “this is an essay film – didactic, polemical, personal.” It is my most personal and passionate film to date. I just hope it generates as much light as it does heat.