I am reflecting on Costa Botes documentary 'Angie' which I saw this week during the International Film Festival in Christchurch. The screening was small - about 40 people I think - and I was there with some family and friends who were interested in understanding more of my experiences at Centrepoint. Angie Meiklejohn was also there, and she and Anke Richter talked before and after the film, which was a lovely touch, humanising the whole experience enormously.
It was a beautiful film, with the story sitting for long periods with stark and brutal facts which are hard to sit with. The movie is based around conversations, many of which were solo narratives by Angie or others, with photos or moving images in the frame with the voice of the interviewee in the background. There were many shots of the ocean, and many shots of the physical landscape of Centrepoint as it is now. Also there were many childhood photos of Angie and her siblings, and also their mother. It really was a story tracking Angie's younger years, setting the scene with her parents unfortunate relationship, her mother's background of sexual abuse, then subsequent mental illness, instability, inability to parent, and neediness which lead Angie's mother to neglect her children and fail to protect them from the predators that came into contact with the family. Centrepoint was a part of the story, arriving into the narrative well after trauma and abuse had become commonplace. It was covered in the movie in part, but was not a focus. The story then moved on to the years afterwards; Angie's early parenting years and the effect of the childhood trauma on her parenting and marriage, the subsequent separation from her husband and children, then how she moved on to find wholeness through different pursuits and passions in her adult life.
I enjoyed many things about this film. I loved how the film managed to cohesively tell the story of a family fragmented by circumstances - in particular Angie's mother's story, and how that impacted on the four siblings. I understand well how hard it is as a child to make sense of a past which is confusing (and nothing confuses a child quite like a parent with mental illness), to thread together disparate events into a cohesive whole, that explains and integrates events which have caused the child damage. This film has crafted a narrative which makes sense of this confusion, out of many perspectives and memories. I am sure that there will be key people's memories that were not represented who may feel the story is wrong in some way, but for Angie and her siblings at least, I hope this film is a true reflection of their story. The telling of this story for these siblings obviously was healing in itself, breaking through the rules of silence and secrecy, to bring light and clarity and connection finally. That was beautiful to watch. Particularly poignant for me was the moment during the sharing circle with the four siblings when Angie expressed her sadness at not protecting her siblings, her fears that she had made things worse for them, and the desire to hear their stories. How open, how inviting, and how powerfully this invitation was, crumbling those old ways of silence and secrecy in a moment. It is clearly so painful to say what needs to be said and risk the rejection, or conflict, or further isolation, but obviously it worked. How brave they all are, but yet now they are living with the reward of that bravery. Openess, honesty, knowing the truth is out now, and the worst is over.
I sit now wondering how this story affects others. For me it makes me think of my own experiences before and after Centrepoint. Because the story weaved so beautifully together events one after the other into a whole, it made me consider my own narrative, how one thing has lead to another. Initially without agency, and simply a child being thrown about by choices of others and circumstances, but increasingly as the years went by an adult with my own agency, capable of responding with choice and will. I wonder if this confusion-made-clear retelling has made others see their own story differently, or at the very least, start to consider what their story looks like, and how to tell it to others.
This was not just a Centrepoint story, but one where Centrepoint played a pivotal role. The experiences Angie had at Centrepoint were massive, but not the only important ones. Without Centrepoint this still would have been an awful childhood to endure. Tragedy which happens to children is more tragic when there are multiple events, but I guess this is the thing about vulnerability. Sadly, vulnerable people seem to collect tragedies - each event adds to the vulnerability and increases the chance that they will experience more misfortune, be deliberately prayed upon, or will start to believe that this is the best they can get in life and start to sabotage their lives themselves.
Angie and her siblings do not hide from the rawness of any of the facts of the family's history. Nor do they appear in any way to be victims, nor to be passively at the mercy of life events. In this movie they have invited the audience to sit with the uncomfortably raw & ugly truths of their history. We must look upon their wounds and stay there with the discomfort, and in doing so, start to feel the pain of our own.