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Thursday, October 24, 2013

DVD Review: In A Town This Size

In A Town This Size is a documentary about child abuse and the long-term effects it has had on the victims. The film relies almost entirely on a series of interviews, augmenting those only with a few still photographs. But really, nothing else is needed. The interviews themselves are completely engrossing and at times devastating.

We first meet the Dutcher family. Del and Dona Dutcher speak about their sons, Mike and Brandon, who were abused by their pediatrician, Dr. Bill Dougherty. Dona says that they thought of Bill as one of the family. “If we had a birthday party, we’d just automatically count Bill as one of the people on the party list,” she tells us. Christy, Mike and Brandon’s sister, talks about how Dr. Bill spent more time with her brothers than with her.

It is then that the filmmaker actually introduces us to Mike and Brandon. It’s interesting that we meet the other family members first, allowing them to set the scene and tone, and in the process making us worry more about the brothers. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were still alive, or if the abuse had led to suicide, or what. This is interesting, because just by ordering the interviews in that way, it gets the audience thinking about the long-term effects of child abuse, and how that childhood trauma might lead to serious troubles in their adult lives.

About Brandon, Dona says, “He said it’s not Dougherty’s fault. He didn’t do anything. He said, ‘It’s just me, I’m a terrible person.’” Brandon then tells us, “Ironically enough, I wasn’t really angry at him. I was angry at myself and the world and other people.”

We see childhood photographs of Brandon, and in them he looks incredibly sad. Dona talks about how she went back to look at all the photos once she knew about the abuse, and how the knowledge changed everything she felt about those photos. By the way, we also see a photo of Bill Dougherty with the boys.

This film is a very important and personal project for director Patrick V. Brown, for he too was abused by Bill Dougherty. During one of the interviews, he asks his subject if he knew about Patrick’s own abuse. That’s how we’re introduced to that information – an interesting way of doing it. Patrick then becomes one of those interviewed as well as the interviewer, telling the tale of his own abuse at his pediatrician’s hands.

(To read the complete review, please click on "RAWR" below.)

We also meet Brown’s parents. His father, Tom Brown, talks about the respectability of Dr. Bill. He says that when the family moved to Bartlesville, everyone had told them they should take their kids to Dr. Bill. Bill is described by almost everyone as articulate, educated, friendly.

We meet several other people who were victims of Dr. Bill, including two who appear anonymously, in shadow. John Stinson says his abuse ended around the conclusion of seventh grade. Interestingly he says, “I think I outgrew him. I would have him go get us liquor.” One of the men who appear in shadow says he never told his mother about the abuse, even when she asked him straight out after a newspaper article had appeared. He says, “I could not have her thinking that that’s why I was gay.”

Most of those interviewed were child abuse victims, or family members of the victims. But there is also an interview with Dr. Richard Gartner, a psychoanalyst and author. He talks about how sexual orientation “is fairly well defined at an earlier age than most boys are in fact sexually abused.” He says that a man may “blame his sexual orientation on this experience of abuse. And that makes it almost impossible for him to have a good feeling about his own sexual identity. Because to feel okay about being gay means that in some way he’s letting his abuser wins.” This is one of the many fascinating aspects of this issue.

And there is an interview with Alan Carlson, who talks about the statute of limitations regarding child abuse. One has to bring a lawsuit within two years of the date of the alleged act. He then adds that there is a second possibility, that is to bring the lawsuit “two years from the date that the person discovered or reasonably should have discovered the injury or condition which was caused by the act.” One must also present proof that the victim psychologically repressed the memory of what happened, and there needs to be corroborating evidence. Obviously, that’s difficult to do.

One of the stated purposes of this documentary is to change the legislation regarding the statute of limitations. Be sure to watch the deleted scenes on the DVD for more information on that area.

Bonus Material

The DVD includes two deleted scenes, each being an interview. The first with is with Robert Owen, MD. His father was a pediatrician in Bartlesville at the same time as Dr. Bill. He talks about gossip in the town, and about how memories can by faulty, and that’s the reason for the statute of limitations. This is a perspective that’s not presented in the main body of the film, and is one worth thinking about. The second deleted scene is an interview with Congressman Earl Sears. Director Patrick V. Brown asks him directly about legislation regarding the statute of limitations, and Sears refuses to answer that on camera. The two deleted scenes total approximately eleven minutes.

The bonus material also includes a brief interview with Patrick V. Brown, in which someone off camera asks him why he’s making the movie. It is there he talks about the statute of limitations.

There is also a bonus feature titled “Epilogue,” which documents the film’s premiere and other screenings. It’s not all that interesting until we see one screening with a panel. There, one of the people who appeared in shadow in the film is in the audience, and he makes the decision right then to stop being anonymous. It’s a very moving moment caught on tape. This bonus feature is approximately ten minutes.

In A Town This Size was released on DVD on October 22, 2013 through First Run Features.

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