A Better Man: Active Listening

The White Ribbon team was honoured to be able to attend both the world premiere and a second screening of A Better Man, a documentary following Co-Director Attiya Khan’s journey towards restorative justice, as she meets her abuser Steve, 23 years later.

As a two-part blog post, Senior Fundraising Manger Aine McGlynn and Communications Manager Clay Jones share their thoughts.

There’s a scene in Attiya Khan’s documentary A Better Man that finds Attiya sitting on the curb outside the home she shared with her abuser, Steve. He’s sitting next to her as she recalls the memories of the daily violence that took place just on the other side of the walls they are looking at. His recollection is fuzzy at best, but he’s compassionate and pained to hear her story. She becomes nauseated and has to walk away from him and from the camera. The camera stays behind, on the curb, as she moves hurriedly away to calm her stomach. But she stays in frame. The camera slowly approaches, keeping her at a respectful distance as she continues to tell her story.

Screen grab from A Better Man, THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA, Intervention Productions in association with TVO.

Watching this scene, it occurred to me that the beauty of the film is not just that it demonstrates the possibility of recovery, survivorship, forgiveness, and empathy, but also that it models the act of active listening. At White Ribbon we talk about how to be an active listener — how to be more concerned with understanding than making an impression, or offering a solution. The film models this. It is quiet and contemplative. It holds the viewer carefully up to the subject matter supporting the viewer to listen by itself modeling the behaviour.

The camera work is calm, thoughtful and present. In one scene Steve and Attiya are filmed from outside the window of a cafe where they remember their fraught past. The effect is that they are both held in the gaze of the camera, but this is not a predatory accusing gaze that looks to transform their discourse for the pleasure of the future audience. This gaze is open, quiet and compassionate. The tremendous success of this film is that the audience, without trying, without knowing, is transformed into the kind of listeners and active bystanders that Khan rightly demands be more present to women suffering abuse of any kind. May all those who see it leave feeling as though how better to hear, and be heard.

  • Aine McGlynn

Originally published at White Ribbon.

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