CSDF 2023 Review: Great Photo, Lovely Life ★★★★★

5 mins read

Secrecy, devout religion, and withheld apologies circulate photojournalist Amanda’s family as far back as the 60s. All of it centres around one man- her grandfather, Bill, whose crimes are unbeknownst to or unacknowledged by her family.

Great Photo, Lovely Life rips the veil of secrecy down, casting Amanda’s family in the blinding light of truth.

The light reveals Bill’s crimes to be more than petty theft. Amanda learns her grandfather is a serial rapist and paedophile- who got away with it in life, and now in death.

Having left Pennslyvania years ago to travel the world and begin a career as a photojournalist, Amanda finally decides to return home to investigate her grandfather’s crimes and mend family relationships.

“My touchy, feely Grandpa… is actually a paedophile”

Amanda, Great Photo, Lovely Life

The story

The title, inspired by a note written on the back of a family photo, references the sheer amount of footage of and by their family that sinisterly alludes to their grandfather’s perversions. Over the years, Amanda’s Grandpa loved photographing and filming every moment he could. He even tried to film the woman filming in the documentary (all the while commenting that she was a very pretty girl).

Amanda explores the conditions that allowed her grandfather to do what he did and get away with it. His job as a chiropractor meant he had steady access to young women and children. A wife willing to cast away her eyes meant he had steady access to his daughter, Amanda’s mother, Debi. A daughter, unwittingly trusting her parents, meant he had steady access to Amanda’s sister, Angie.

Seeking out closure for both her family and the unrelated victims proved harder than Amanda thought. Denial wasn’t a factor as much as ignorance was. Then, religion reared its head, making forgiveness much easier sought than given.

Christ will forgive… we are bound for Heaven

Bill, Great Photo, Lovely Life

Amanda’s Grandpa died during filming, but not before she managed to confront him on camera. Bill did not deny his crimes- he couldn’t, really, due to his convictions- but he did not embrace their gravity. Apologies were not uttered and remorse was not felt.

Amanda. Image credit: Central Scotland Documentary Festival

Great Photo, Lovely Life leaves the audience emotionally hung out to dry. It is fast, painful and somewhat accurately inconclusive. It was an honest tribute to not only Bill’s victims but all victims of sexual violence.

The storytelling

The documentary was created and curated by Amanda. The intimate access that only really she could provide, as a member of the family, truly made the film what it was- an intimate, compassionate, and intellectual look at sexual violence and generational trauma.

Kitchen table conversations mixed with official documents, Great Photo, Lovely Life uses all aspects within its reach to create a film that unabashedly reveals the truth. Amanda’s connection to the story was essential in creating an empathetic and knowledgeable feel. It is not another true-crime documentary, but rather an introspective diary series showing the family in a light unachievable from a non-family member.

Chronology was used to aid the narrative, but flashes back and forward helped to showcase the scale of the story. A conclusive picture was created, even if avenues were left open towards the end.

However, the inconslusiveness was truthful. Amanda’s grandpa dying meant answers were never going to be given; even if he had lived, remorse was not guaranteed.

Great Photo, Lovely Life is an ode to survivors of sexual assualt, and to the family at the heart of this sick tragedy.

Feature image credit: Central Scotland Documentary Festival

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Journalism and English Studies student with an interest in film & tv, music, and politics.
Live on Forth Valley Radio Mondays 6-8
Twitter: @AlexPaterson01

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