BRATTLEBORO — Hide, a psychological thriller about a resilient woman fighting back against her husband's escalating gaslighting and abuse during the pandemic lockdown, is coming to the Latchis Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 21.
The screening of the feature-length film, written and directed by Ben Samuels, is in collaboration with the Women's Freedom Center (WFC) in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Samuels, based in Brooklyn, New York, is a 2009 graduate of Tufts University, where he double-majored in psychology and drama, "but I always felt like they were the same major," he quips.
Though Tufts "didn't have a film program, I found people there who were just as passionate as I was and we just kept making movies," as he'd been doing for years, first inspired at home.
"When I was in fifth grade, my father asked if I just wanted to have friends over to run around the backyard for my birthday or if I wanted to make a movie," he says, noting that "that's pretty much the moment when my life changed."
His father shot with a VHS camera while he and his friends enacted a five-minute James Bond parody his father had scripted.
Challenging notions of victimhood
At bensamuels.com, one can see the scope and depth of Samuels' social-justice-centered film work. The inspiration for Hide came because, he recalls, "I had a friend who'd organically moved out of our friends' group. There were no red flags; none of us gave it a second thought."
The friend got married and moved away, "and we all just gradually lost touch - something that can happen with any friend," he says.
When she resurfaced a few years later, "she shared that she'd been through an emotionally-abusive marriage and was just starting on her journey to healing and recovery," Samuels continues.
"Everything that she described really challenged every notion I'd had of what a victim was," the filmmaker says. "She had been so empowered and had so much caring and agency - she was the last person I thought would be in a situation like that; but the reality is: This touches everybody. It touches every walk of life; it doesn't discriminate on gender, on race, on socioeconomics."
Samuels called abuse "the silent epidemic."
"And the more I became aware of that, the more I realized there hadn't been a film - at least not one that I'd seen - that really told an authentic story," he says.
He was unaware of a film that told of the "slow, gradual escalation that abusers follow, the slow dismantling of another human being's sense of self-worth, self-confidence."
"As my friend bravely shared her story, I realized the nuances of gaslighting - of emotional abuse - were terrifying," Samuels says. "And they're all around."
He adds that "I wanted to fully reveal what I thought was going unheard and, hopefully, through the process I could inspire and empower others to have the conversation" about domestic abuse.
Described on latchis.com as "visually mesmerizing and emotionally arresting, the film's pace and pathos pull us into a story that will feel uncomfortably familiar to too many of us. The film is intended to inspire survivors to seek support services and empower their escape."
Samuels made the film "at the height of pandemic, so everyone was in their own lockdown, which only enhanced the work we were doing."
He says that isolation "brought a certain intensity and tension to the idea of the film" at a time when "people couldn't call for help - they were trapped."
Sparking difficult discussion
Samuels is currently on the road with the film for a 14-state, three-week tour of the country to be present at screenings hosted at nonprofit cinemas, partnering with women's shelters, crisis centers, and YWCAs to spark community dialogue around domestic violence.
The Latchis stop was facilitated by Willa Dana of Brattleboro, an intern with Samuels' production company.
Dana, a sophomore studying filmmaking and journalism at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, "keyed into our mission," Samuels recalls, "and said 'there's a theater in my hometown I grew up going to, and there's the Women's Freedom Center.'"
"Willa really built this into our itinerary," he says. "I'm so glad she did: I think it's going to be one of the most beautiful theaters that we go to in one of the most incredible communities that we visit. I think it's just a perfect alignment."
Dana's role "has primarily been making contact with many different domestic violence and women's organizations across the country, and finding towns along the way where we wanted to screen the film," she says.
"I immediately thought of Brattleboro as a potential stop and knew we would have a fantastic community there to support this project," she continues.
Shari, an advocate and the community outreach coordinator for the Women's FreedomCenter - whose last name is withheld by the organization out of precaution given the violence that's adjacent to work with survivors of domestic violence - says "we're grateful when artists of different media bring such close up compelling work to community conversations."
Having been an advocate for decades, the last 14 at the WFC, she reports that domestic violence is seeing an uptick nationwide.
"We certainly are back to pre-lockdown numbers - we're super busy," Shari says.
The pandemic and the current times have exacerbated domestic violence; thus, she adds, "we deeply appreciate any time other groups bring these issues to light."
And film is a most potent means of doing so: "Hide is riveting as a thriller, but all too common in peoples' lived experience," she says.
Having "played a couple film festivals," Samuels says, Hide "snagged a best actress award for the lead female, Loena, played by Nadine Malouf."
"Her performance is transfixing," he says. "She brought humanity to a role that's challenging to play."
Samuels and Malouf will take part in a post-show discussion, alongside advocates of the Women's Freedom Center. Tickets for the 7 p.m. showing of Hide (89 minutes) on Oct. 21 at the Latchis are $20 and available in advance at bit.ly/736-hide or at the door. More information about Hide - and about a crowdfunding effort to support the awareness campaign - is on Samuel's website.
This The Arts item by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.