It is one of the rites of passage growing up, realising that there is no such thing as the “perfect family”. We all have our imperfections and every family has its own cross to bear, large or small . Sometimes even the family members themselves are at a loss as to explain what is going on. Sometimes it’s something one “doesn’t really talk about”. Filmmaker Umut Gunduz seems to have decided to use a documentary to drag his own family skeletons out of the closet. And while he airs the grievances everyone just refuses to talk about in his own family, he pushes us to think about our own family…
Umut grew up in a large blended family with seven children. It was on the whole a normal family, with the ups and downs that come from having a large family and limited income. But as with a lot of families (if not most of them) there is one black sheep. He is Stevie, he is the son of the “proper couple”, so he only has one other full sibling. And from the get go, he seems to refuse completely to fit in. Small scrapes grow into bigger ones, chastisement simply doesn’t work and, in his late teens, Stevie is living the kind of “gangster” lifestyle that could have sprung from a bad B movie. What Umut wants to know is, in a word, how and why this happened.
For this we see two separate points of view of the family. On the one hand we have Umut our narrator, showing us old family footage, interviewing family members and narrating the family history as he understands it. On the other hand, we have Stevie. Umut has given him a camera too, and Stevie records his diaries. He shows us his daily life and slowly, much more reticently than Umut, he begins to tell the family history as HE experienced it. And the contrast between the two narratives…well, you need to discover that bit for yourselves.
Shaky and grainy camera footage of family occasions, are a large part of the documentary. Apart from this, Stevie is clearly not an accomplished cameraman and Umut clearly did not have a massive budget to make the film with. In fact from a technical perspective you basically feel as if you are watching someone’s home movie. But this is precisely why it works. This is clearly a deeply personal film for Umut, we see him opening up discussions that have never really been talked about, though God knows they are ridiculously overdue. (And how many times have we had those moments in our own family? ) It is the raw and unpolished nature of the film that makes it so easy to relate to. If there ever was a real – yet dramatic- slice of life to go up on a screen, this is definitely a fine example.
Another thing to note is that in a cinematic climate where villains’ backstories and the perspectives are still quite a la mode (think the upcoming Pan or Maleficent ), this is the story of how “a villain” is born – the only exception is that this is real life. When you have a young one “going wild”, it is so easy to call him or her “just a bad kid”. And the last thing families generally do is sit down and ask the kid what is wrong – Umut and Stevie’s family is no exception. Stevie finds it hard to “be all sensitive”, he’s clearly a “blokes bloke”. But given time and a camera, he does open up. He does tell us how he felt. And looking at Umut’s old family tapes, we are starkly reminded that there are as many ways to interpret a situation as there are eyes looking at it.
Stevie G may not be your first choice for you as you thumb through a catalogue of films. Even five minutes in, you may wonder if you made a mistake and whether you should have gone to the big name movie next door. But the beauty of it is, it grows on you. It slowly creeps under your skin and you find yourself thinking about it days afterwards, and this is a sign of real quality in storytelling, no matter what else it says on the package…
Stevie G was screened as part of the East End Film Festival – for more information check http://www.eastendfilmfestival.com