‘Primas’ offers on-screen healing

With the rise of #MeToo and Time’s Up, the film offers an important reminder that sexual assault is a global problem.

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Primas, the film chosen for True/False Film Fest’s 2018 True Life Fund, begins in an abstract way. Close shots of a lighthouse beacon, a sleeping seal and a young woman buried in the sand are complemented by the whispering voice of a girl reading a diary entry in Spanish.

The voice is that of the girl in the sand, Rocío Álvarez. As the documentary continues, we learn more about Rocío and her cousin, Aldana Bari Gonzalez. Both are young girls living in Argentina, so we expect them to have similar lives and experiences — and they do. However, their similarities run deeper than just location and language. Both women are also survivors of sexual assault.

In a raw moment about halfway through the film, Rocío explains the origins of the scars she bears on her legs and arm. Six years prior to the filming of the documentary, Rocío was violently assaulted. Her attacker raped her, burned her and left her for dead on the side of a road. While she was still on fire and barely cognizant, she walked down the road looking for help. After a car passed by without stopping, a truck driver eventually drove by and took her to a hospital where she had multiple surgeries and successful skin grafts.

Rocío’s assault was violent, public and at the hands of a stranger. But in the same on-screen moment, the audience learns about Aldana’s private and personal experience with sexual assault at the hands of her father, the brother of Laura Bari, who directed the film.

Aldana’s assault was one she kept to herself for a long time, not telling others about her experience and not really knowing what had happened in the first place. She tells stories of going to therapy and saying nothing and of eventually hinting that something had happened, without ever saying exactly what. Once she eventually expressed what she’d gone through, she wasn’t believed by the police and was told to go to a different station to report the crime and was even asked to complete a psychological evaluation to ensure she was telling the truth.

The juxtaposition of the girls’ stories tells us a lot about the causes and effects of sexual assault, an issue that has gained momentum with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. The audience experiences firsthand the pain that assault causes, whether it’s done by a stranger or a relative, and the struggle of choosing when to tell your story or having no choice at all.

Rocío and Aldana show the audience, and the world, the power of a narrative. Narratives help the survivor heal by allowing him or her to express the pain, emotion and truth behind what happened to them. It allows survivors to flip the script and take ownership and reclaim themselves from their rapists and assaulters.

The film closes with the girls performing on a stage, moving and releasing unspoken emotion through their bodies. The girls and their aunt view creativity and storytelling as a healing force, but ultimately, Aldana says she didn’t share her story for herself. These women, these survivors, bravely speak their truth on camera to “fight for respect” — not just for themselves, not just for survivors of assault, but for everyone.

The girls’ message was love and that’s exactly what they brought to True/False. It was also what True/False gave back to them. During each screening of the film, viewers had the option to donate money to the girls through the True Life Fund, which is sponsored by The Crossing with funds matched by the Bertha Foundation. Rocío, Aldana and Bari attended each screening during the festival and also made an appearance at The Crossing that Sunday morning. The goal was to raise more than $20,000 to support the girls’ artistic and collegiate pursuits and allow them to continue to share their stories.

Edited by Claire Colby |ccolby@themaneater.com

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