Monday, June 27, 2011

A Documentary on Zanda and Valdis, Sibling Lovers - UPDATED

A documentary from 2010, “Family Instinct,” is getting some attention.

'Family Instinct' is a film about incest - an illegal act, social taboo and a violation of religious norms.

It is legal in some places and is supported in some religions, and not considered a violation in some others.

Zanda is a 28-year-old woman, worn out by hard work. Surrounded by poverty and despair, she is trying to survive with her two children in a god-forsaken Latvian village. Her hardships can be traced back to living in a relationship with her brother Valdis. When Valdis is put in jail, the local community forces her to make a difficult choice: to stay with him or with her children. Despite her ill fortune, she manages to express her love for the children, still hoping to save her family. The film offers a tragicomic but highly authentic insight into the bleak reality of Latvian countryside today.

I haven’t seen this documentary yet, but perhaps the problem wasn’t the consanguinamorous relationship, but rather the bigoted reactions to it.

*** UPDATE ***

An anonymous commenter alerted me to additional, very important information:

Your plot summary deliberately left out an important fact:

"Valdis is serving a year's sentence in prison for physically abusing them." The 'them' being her two children.

I can assure you I didn't leave that information out deliberately; I saw the same summary on a couple of websites, a summary that didn't include that information. If I would have checked the film's official website, I would have found that.

I condemn child abuse and I wonder how a year's sentence could possibly be enough. That only makes sense if he merely slapped them once or twice.

I can understand siblings being loving with each other. I do not support, however, people who choose to be with child abusers. None the less, people do, and they are free to do so, as sad as that is. The Zanda should be ashamed to choose a child abuser.

*** END UPDATE ***

The film won an award at the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival, as did some other notable films.

A Special Jury Mention went to THE BULLY PROJECT, directed by Lee Hirsch, which tackles the timely topic of bullying in this sensitive examination of an urgent crisis in American society. The film follows five children and their families over the course of one school year as their lives are affected in different ways by bullying.

The Jury noted: “Set in the heartland of America, this film takes a sensitive and volatile issue and brings it to light in a no-holds barred style that is visually stunning and deeply compelling. This tortuous experience of youth is shared by many, but is bravely revealed in this film through characters who confront their experience and work to reclaim their dignity. The filmmaker’s access shows the enormous trust established with his subjects. The result is a film that doesn’t reduce people to their worst experience, but rather elevates them to a level of marginalized heroes and sheros we should all aspire to emulate.”

As for “Family Instinct”…

This year’s Sterling Award for Best World Feature went to FAMILY INSTINCT directed by Andris Gauja. A unique chronicle of family gone awry, this film is an unsparing exploration of a Latvian household built on the incestuous relationship between Zanda and her imprisoned brother Valdis, whose pending homecoming creates tremendous frisson. The prize is accompanied by a $5,000 cash award.

The Sterling Award World Jury noted: “A slice-of-f#@ked-up-life portrait, the director of this film clearly had fly-on-the-wall access to his subjects, but some scenes, shot from multiple angles, are so formally composed as to seem staged. That’s not a bad thing: For all the desperation and depravity of the story, the filmmaker rescues a narrative of deep sadness and yearning that’s as touching as the circumstances are shocking.”

That doesn’t make it sound like the documentary is sympathetic to consanguinamory.

An Honorable Mention went to STILL HERE, directed by Alex Camilleri. In the film, Randy Baron has been living with HIV for over two decades. In that time, he watched as AIDS ravaged his partner and many friends whose lives were lost to a diagnosis that was considered a death sentence in the 1980s. The film documents his efforts to carry on and dedicate his life to education and activism.

The Jury noted: “A powerful portrayal of loss and grief, this film is a testament to one man’s resilience. Visually rich and capturing raw emotions, it stays with you long after watching.”

Finally, something from a past battle for the freedom to marry…

The WGA Documentary Screenplay Award went to THE LOVING STORY written by Nancy Buirski and Susie Ruth Powell. Mildred and Richard Loving never imagined that their unassuming love story would be the basis of a watershed anti-miscegenation civil rights case. But in 1967, when this soft-spoken interracial couple are exiled from Virginia-the only home they have ever known-for the mere crime of falling in love and getting married, they feel they have no choice but to fight back. The Prize is accompanied by a $1,000 cash award, and a five-year membership in the WGAE Nonfiction Writers Caucus.

That happened to the Lovings shouldn’t happen to anyone, including lovers like Zanda and Valdis.

If you’ve seen any of these, please tell the rest of us what you thought.
— — —


  1. Your plot summary deliberately left out an important fact:

    "Valdis is serving a year's sentence in prison for physically abusing them." The 'them' being her two children.

    The incest, if it is a factor at all, is secondary at best.

    It isn't bigotry at work when a man who physically abuses children is held accountable for his crimes.

  2. Thank for your alerting me, as much as I resent being accused to deliberately leaving that information out. I did not do it intentionally; It wasn't on the sites I checked.


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