Oct. 24, 2013
In A Town This Size is a documentary about child abuse and the
long-term effects it has had on the victims. The film relies almost entirely on
a series of interviews, augmenting those only with a few still photographs. But
really, nothing else is needed. The interviews themselves are completely
engrossing and at times devastating.
We first meet the Dutcher
family. Del and Dona Dutcher speak about their sons, Mike and Brandon, who were
abused by their pediatrician, Dr. Bill Dougherty. Dona says that they thought
of Bill as one of the family. “If we had
a birthday party, we’d just automatically count Bill as one of the people on
the party list,” she tells us. Christy, Mike and Brandon’s sister, talks
about how Dr. Bill spent more time with her brothers than with her.
It is then that the
filmmaker actually introduces us to Mike and Brandon. It’s interesting that we
meet the other family members first, allowing them to set the scene and tone,
and in the process making us worry more about the brothers. I couldn’t help but
wonder if they were still alive, or if the abuse had led to suicide, or what.
This is interesting, because just by ordering the interviews in that way, it
gets the audience thinking about the long-term effects of child abuse, and how that
childhood trauma might lead to serious troubles in their adult lives.
About Brandon, Dona says,
“He said it’s not Dougherty’s fault. He
didn’t do anything. He said, ‘It’s just me, I’m a terrible person.’”
Brandon then tells us, “Ironically
enough, I wasn’t really angry at him. I was angry at myself and the world and
We see childhood
photographs of Brandon, and in them he looks incredibly sad. Dona talks about
how she went back to look at all the photos once she knew about the abuse, and
how the knowledge changed everything she felt about those photos. By the way,
we also see a photo of Bill Dougherty with the boys.
This film is a very
important and personal project for director Patrick V. Brown, for he too was
abused by Bill Dougherty. During one of the interviews, he asks his subject if
he knew about Patrick’s own abuse. That’s how we’re introduced to that
information – an interesting way of doing it. Patrick then becomes one of those
interviewed as well as the interviewer, telling the tale of his own abuse at
his pediatrician’s hands.
(To read the complete review, please click on "RAWR" below.)
We also meet Brown’s
parents. His father, Tom Brown, talks about the respectability of Dr. Bill. He
says that when the family moved to Bartlesville, everyone had told them they
should take their kids to Dr. Bill. Bill is described by almost everyone as
articulate, educated, friendly.
We meet several other
people who were victims of Dr. Bill, including two who appear anonymously, in
shadow. John Stinson says his abuse ended around the conclusion of seventh
grade. Interestingly he says, “I think I
outgrew him. I would have him go get us liquor.” One of the men who appear
in shadow says he never told his mother about the abuse, even when she asked
him straight out after a newspaper article had appeared. He says, “I could not have her thinking that that’s
why I was gay.”
Most of those interviewed
were child abuse victims, or family members of the victims. But there is also
an interview with Dr. Richard Gartner, a psychoanalyst and author. He talks
about how sexual orientation “is fairly
well defined at an earlier age than most boys are in fact sexually abused.”
He says that a man may “blame his sexual
orientation on this experience of abuse. And that makes it almost impossible
for him to have a good feeling about his own sexual identity. Because to feel
okay about being gay means that in some way he’s letting his abuser wins.”
This is one of the many fascinating aspects of this issue.
And there is an interview
with Alan Carlson, who talks about the statute of limitations regarding child
abuse. One has to bring a lawsuit within two years of the date of the alleged
act. He then adds that there is a second possibility, that is to bring the
lawsuit “two years from the date that the
person discovered or reasonably should have discovered the injury or condition
which was caused by the act.” One must also present proof that the victim
psychologically repressed the memory of what happened, and there needs to be
corroborating evidence. Obviously, that’s difficult to do.
One of the stated
purposes of this documentary is to change the legislation regarding the statute
of limitations. Be sure to watch the deleted scenes on the DVD for more
information on that area.
The DVD includes two
deleted scenes, each being an interview. The first with is with Robert Owen,
MD. His father was a pediatrician in Bartlesville at the same time as Dr. Bill.
He talks about gossip in the town, and about how memories can by faulty, and
that’s the reason for the statute of limitations. This is a perspective that’s
not presented in the main body of the film, and is one worth thinking about.
The second deleted scene is an interview with Congressman Earl Sears. Director
Patrick V. Brown asks him directly about legislation regarding the statute of
limitations, and Sears refuses to answer that on camera. The two deleted scenes
total approximately eleven minutes.
The bonus material also
includes a brief interview with Patrick V. Brown, in which someone off camera
asks him why he’s making the movie. It is there he talks about the statute of
There is also a bonus
feature titled “Epilogue,” which documents the film’s premiere and other
screenings. It’s not all that interesting until we see one screening with a
panel. There, one of the people who appeared in shadow in the film is in the
audience, and he makes the decision right then to stop being anonymous. It’s a
very moving moment caught on tape. This bonus feature is approximately ten
In A Town This Size was released on DVD on October 22, 2013 through
First Run Features.