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CIFF 40: Unseen

CIFF 40: Unseen


This evening I attended the Cleveland International Film Festival to view the film, Unseen, a documentary that takes you through a more in-depth story of the eleven murders of Anthony Sowell that really shook up the city of Cleveland, four years removed from him receiving the death sentence in 2011.

Going into the film, I knew my fair share of information about the case, but in this film, director Laura Paglin reveals that the few survivors of Sowell’s murder spree were stripped of their title as human because their battles with crack cocaine that tore their lives, as well as those of their kids and family, apart. The audience seemed very engaged and emotionally affected by the stories that the four survivors told about their experiences with Anthony Sowell. You could hear gasps and see silhouettes of heads shaking in disgust as the film revealed that many of his crimes went unreported and charges weren’t pressed before he murdered six more women in the span of three years that followed.

In the midst of seeing the horror of Sowell’s crimes being told by the survivors, I realized how each story had a recurring pattern: no one helped the victims. Since they happened to be women who fell victim to hard drugs, police and the community as a whole turned the other way and didn’t take initiative.

After the film concluded, I stayed for a Q&A with both the director and one of the survivors, Vanessa Gay. She was lucky enough to be let go by Anthony Sowell and also was the only victim who testified against him in court. You can tell that this situation still affects her to this day. Her everyday routine isn’t a walk in the park and you can tell that watching the film really brought back many unwanted thoughts. One by one, people from the audience were able to ask questions and majority of them addressed Ms. Gay as a strong woman who should be an inspiration to many women out there.

On the other hand, Laura Paglin showed very few real emotions about the situation. At one point, someone asked her about her reason behind making the film, and her response almost made me walk right out the door because it seemed to me that she made this film because she knew it was going to be a film that could do well in the long run. Instead of saying that she wanted to spread awareness about black women that live in low income communities that struggle with drug addiction, she basically told the audience that she had to trick herself into wanting to do the film because she isn’t the kind of person to deal with depressing situations, which made me sick to my stomach.

The Q&A concluded when a cousin from the Sowell family extended his apologies that no one from that side of the family reached out to contact Ms. Gay. She tearfully accepted his apology.

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Overall, I thought very highly of this film. I can’t say that I enjoyed it considering of the content, but this is the kind of film that can spread awareness and show that the inner city is a living, breathing place that needs help. I think this film also will spread awareness that, regardless of someone’s situation, we have to do better at looking out for one another because we are human beings and should be treated as such.

4.5 of 5 Stars

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