“Your mind works differently than someone who hasn’t had that experience,” states Marcia Wickham, the main subject of The Process of Recovering. The film, which will screen at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on June 13th, explores the complicated effects of sexual trauma, specifically through the lens of Marcia’s abuse and recovery. TW: sexual abuse, incest, suicide
Through a combination of interviews with Marcia, her family, and her friends, archived photos and videos from her life, and stylized dramatizations, The Process of Recovering investigates how our culture violently silences survivors of sexual abuse and how they must navigate their recoveries as a result.
One of the first memorable shots of the film comes roughly at the three minute mark, after Marcia has briefly explained her complicated feelings about the label “father” in regards to her abuser, while still shining a light on the possibility for recovery. Thus far, we have spent the film’s opening looking at Marcia (and her piercing, steely blue eyes) in closeup, within the context of an interview structure and setting. Suddenly, a reverse shot positions us slightly behind Marcia, from her visual point of view. The camera, boom mic, and production crew stare back at us.
Here, two important things are exposed: the invasive quality of this kind of interview, no matter how thoughtfully or genuinely completed, as well as the strength Marcia possesses to share her story publicly. The relationship between survivors and those who listen to them is highlighted, forcing the viewer to ask how they fit into this dynamic, on a personal and cultural level.
The film then dives into Marcia’s story. Marcia shares that from the ages of 8 to 14, she was raped and sexually abused by her biological father. He ingrained in her a deep sense of secrecy and shame--“You cannot tell anybody about this. This has to stay a secret.” Abruptly, one day her father announced that he had found salvation through the Mennonite Church, marking the end of his physical abuse of Marcia. However, Marcia believes that her father’s “awakening” was simply a method for him to further silence her, defensively spouting about forgiveness and redemption whenever she would bring up his past.
Marcia’s father died when she was about 20. Afterward, “I became flooded with memories” she reveals, detailing one of the most difficult periods of her life. Marcia was overcome with vivid memories, intrusive thoughts, and physical pain where she had been assaulted. On Marcia and her ex-husband’s 10th wedding anniversary, she attempted suicide.
During Marcia’s resulting hospital stay she met Dr. Bulette, the first person with whom she openly talked about her abuse, allowing Marcia to start her recovery journey. “It was the first time she told anybody the truth, and that is such an essential part of any recovery” Dr. Brulette makes clear. Marcia’s recovery included many components: she would write down even her most extreme and troubling feelings, spend time alone naked to become more comfortable with her body, watch pornography to replace traumatic images with those of mutual joy and consent, and consistenly attend extensive therapy with Dr. Bulette. Through these examples, Marcia communicates that recovery occurs on many different fronts: mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually, and more. And though recovery is complicated (Marcia discusses the difficulty of “trying to resolve all of this without the satisfaction of any kind of response from [her father]”), it is clearly possible--“I am a really happy person now,” she smiles.
The most striking aspect of The Process of Recovering, besides Marcia’s tremendous vulnerability and grace, is the way in which the film centers survivors in its formal decisions. Many films about sexual violence and incest often sensationalize the abuse and abuser, while leaving survivor safety--of both those in the film and those watching it--as an afterthought or footnote. But The Process of Recovering does not fall into this trap.
Notably, the dramatizations of the past refuse to show graphic or potentially triggering imagery, instead opting for more creative visuals which still produce an affecting tone. For example, inserts of a bathtub’s faucet and floating bubbles show while Marcia describes an episode of abuse. In other instances, young Marcia, played by a child actor, stands alone in a black void to illustrate her isolation, or rips out her doll’s eyelashes to show how overwhelmed she is by trauma.
Further, a sweet final moment solidifies that the film is primarily interested in celebrating Marcia. When asked to describe Marcia, her partner, Giles, says: “Wow. How many hours of tape do we have? Marcia is strong, my best friend. She’s gracious; she’s kind; she’s magical; she is a survivor; not a great cook, but she really tries.” He continues, “I have never been able to talk to someone like I talk to Marcia,” clearly emotional, when Marcia and their child join him on screen. This moment of incredible warmth reminds the viewer that survivors--of any kind--are so much more than their trauma. The film then closes with the national hotline for sexual abuse.
The Process of Recovering, in its centering of survivors, asks us all to think about how we prioritize survivors in our own lives, in the language we use, actions we take, and art we consume and create. The film will show at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on Sunday, June 13th.
Sunday, June 13, 2021 - $12=General
Film will be available on Video On Demand for 24 hours on this show date.
To buy tickets and get more info go here.
The Process of Recovering – Nora Mandray, Jonathan Bulette (Santa Monica, California)
The Process of Recovering aims to answer a universal question: How do we cope with the bad things that happen to us? Marcia Wickham is an expert in this subject. This important film tells her story. It is the account of a woman’s journey from trauma to recovery. Over forty years, she overcomes childhood incest and escapes fundamentalist Christianity to achieve self- discovery and fulfillment. 2020; 79 min.