Both Rocío Álvarez and Aldana Bari Gonzalez were pretty typical teenagers when their aunt, the documentary filmmaker Laura Bari, decided her next film should be about the two girls’ journey to wholeness after both had suffered sexual abuse.
In fact, when Laura Bari first broached the subject with Rocío when she was still a teen, it took a bit of effort to get the girl to stop texting on her cell phone.
But then Bari had her attention, and the eventual result is this year’s True/False True Life Fund Film, “Primas” (“Cousins”).
Each year, one film is selected as the True Life Fund film, and at the end of the weekend, the subjects of the film are presented with a gift of filmgoers’ individual contributions. It’s a way to give back to the people who allow their stories to be told through a film, according to the film festival’s website.
Last year, more than $19,000 was raised for those involved in the documentary, “Quest,” said Tracy Lane, executive director of the Ragtag Film Society, the nonprofit that operates the True/False Film Fest. This year, they hope to raise more than $20,000 for Álvarez and Bari Gonzalez.
“Primas,” which was also shot and edited by Laura Bari, follows Álvarez and Bari Gonzalez’s journey through an artistic expression of their pain and resilience. Before filming, the girls never had met, and Bari helped bring them together through the documentary.
All of Bari’s films — one of which was shown in the 2010 True/False Film Fest — focus on survivors of traumatic events and the expression of their experiences through imagination, the director said. For Álvarez and Bari Gonzalez this meant dancing, performing in theatre and creating visual art.
The girls described working artistically in this way as deeply therapeutic.
It’s all about the journey, Bari said.
“I believe fundamentally in the process of creation instead of the final product,” she said.
Bari Gonzalez said it took her a long time to tell the story, but in doing so, she was able to better digest what had happened to her.
“Art can heal and transform,” she said, through a translator.
While sharing her story, Bari Gonzalez began to realize that she was not alone. She also realized that others had endured similar experiences and that hearing her story might help them come to the same realization.
However, the filming was sometimes challenging for both girls.
For Álvarez, the most difficult moment came on the last day of filming. Her aunt wanted to place the camera close to her niece’s body and show the burn scars on her arms in detail — the result of being burned by the man who dragged her off her bike and raped her at age 10.
For Bari Gonzalez, the hardest moment was when her aunt asked her to put her experience of sexual abuse into words.
The result is included in the film and is so moving, her aunt said, it has brought audiences to tears everywhere it’s been shown.
Filming the documentary was a transformative experience for everyone involved. Bari said she was able to learn from her nieces and showcase their strength and resilience, while Álvarez and Bari Gonzalez were able to accept their pasts and move forward with their lives. Together, they all said they were all able to grow while filming the documentary.
“I didn’t make the film about them,” Bari said. “I made it with them. I’m the object of catharsis and they’re the subject of liberation.”
Since being released in November 2017, “Primas” has won several awards, including the Audience Award at the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina and an honorable mention at the Montreal International Documentary Festival.
It’s been well-received everywhere, and Bari said it has brought many viewers to tears.
The film had the same effect on Álvarez and Bari Gonzalez the first time they saw the final product. Álvarez’s tears prompted an elderly man — a total stranger — to wrap her in a hug.
Back home in Argentina, Bari Gonzalez said her friends are all following and keeping up with the film. In Álvarez’s hometown, not many people have seen the documentary, she said.
But Argentineans are keenly aware of the problem of violence against women. Argentina’s #niunamenos (“not one less”) movement has brought people into the streets in protest of the murders of women. Laura Bari described it as a movement focused on respect for all — and zero tolerance for violence.
Álvarez and Bari Gonzalez visited Battle and Douglas high schools Wednesday to share their stories, and they were planning to speak to students at Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools on Thursday.
“Primas” is showing at True/False several times this weekend:
- 11 a.m. Friday at the Missouri Theatre
- 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Jesse Auditorium
- 3:15 p.m. Sunday at the Missouri Theatre
According to the documentary’s page on the True/False website, representatives from True North will be available at all three of the screenings to provide support for any audience members who may need it.
Both Álvarez and Bari Gonzalez plan to use the True Life funds to continue their education. Álvarez is studying visual art, and Bari Gonzalez is pursuing a degree in drama.