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#HotDocs22 Review: Relative

May 1, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Director Tracey Arcabasso Smith digs deep into her own personal life and family history in her documentary Relative, weaving a nuanced portrait of how abuse and trauma ripple down through generations. The filmmaker was sexually abused as a child by a family member, something that she still struggles to come to terms with.

Through interviews with members of her large Italian-American family, she discovers that similar abuse has been prevalent across generations, from her grandmother who speaks matter of factly about being abused but insists that she hasn’t let it get to her, to her mother who simply prefers not to talk about her own abuse. One of the emergent commonalities that Arcabasso Smith explores is how victims are made to feel responsible for tearing families apart if they speak up, unfairly putting the onus on them to stay silent.

While Relative is uncomfortable and emotional viewing, what emerges is a fascinating and moving conversation about rampant familial sexual abuse and how different generations of women process trauma. The candid interviews are seamlessly interwoven with home movies from over the years that seem harmless and often happy, but are re-contextualized by the knowledge of what was happening behind the scenes. Intimate yet expansive in how it ignites a discussion about a much larger issue, Relative is a riveting and powerful film.


Sunday, May 1st – 2:15 PM at Varsity 8

Friday, May 6th – 2:15 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre

The film is also available to stream across Canada for five days starting on May 2nd at 9:00 AM.

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