A BETTER MAN
Directed by Attiya Khan, Lawrence Jackman
Official Selection, 2017 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
“I remember choking you,” he says. “I don’t really remember hitting much, but I remember that.”
Attiya Khan’s A BETTER MAN is unlike any personal doc you’ve ever seen. After she accidentally runs into ex-boyfriend Steve, who beat her 22 years ago, the two embark on a series of recorded conversations examining Steve’s intimate and mind-boggling violence. The conversations which unfold are utterly gripping – whenever they speak, we want to hear every word they say. Rather than being an observational fly on the wall, the film invites us into a conversation, and it’s the invitation of a lifetime.
As 16 and 17-year-old high school students, Steve and Attiya lived together in Ottawa, a two-year span that quickly became living hell with daily choking and punching, which Khan eventually escaped with the help of friends. Now reflecting decades later, Attiya and Steve are equal parts uncompromising and shockingly generous. Rather than explanation or confession, their words are refreshingly precise, the way plainspeak can jar a person into alertness. Along with multiple riveting sessions with Steve, the film interludes with Khan’s loving family and a supportive community with whom Khan works, and tense visits to old apartments and a school campus that turned a blind eye.
A BETTER MAN is no savior machine or witch hunt. Khan is both calming and restless; Steve, upright with attention that periodically crumples with recognition. Both, curious about each other and themselves. Each, working toward some communion with the past, cracking open the enormity of a time that Khan can never shake and Steve can only partially remember.
As well as her own need for healing, Khan hopes to empower men to change as well. In fact, Khan and Steve describe the process as surprisingly therapeutic. Despite its startling premise, A BETTER MAN is strangely renewing for audiences. We are witness to a transformative process unlike anything else onscreen, one that repairs at the foundations of pain, a process which can only be described as humane and hopefully transcendent. –Christina Ree