AFI Docs 2021 Film Festival Review: Stevie (2002)

Written by Taylor Baker

90/100

Stevie starts off with Steve James, the director of the film–best known for Hoop Dreams and Prefontaine; framing his guilty conscience of leaving his little brother Stevie(Stephen Fielding) from the “Big Brother” program as he went off the college and it taking 7 years for him to return. It’s roughly twenty years after the film’s initial release now, but the sense of place, isolation, and humanity that must have been ripe at it’s release are still laid wide today. Hearing Stevie’s Grandmother recount his mother whipping him when he was a little boy, his hip turning green, and him losing his ability to speak feels otherworldly. It’s untenable. She lays it out as plainly as she remarks on his difficulty with speech to this day. We revisit this and many other stories from the Fielding family as the Documentary progresses. It’s contents are heartbreaking, gut wrenching, painful, and seemingly insurmountable. To say Stevie’s lived a hard life, is just the beginning of his story.

The film takes a hard turn, after the initial visit we see in the introduction Steve once again finds ways to avoid coming back to see Stevie for two years. And when he finally does turn up Stevie has been booked with charges for sexually assaulting a minor. The minor is Stevie’s cousin. These charges are the backdrop of the rest of the film. Will Stevie go to prison or not? Should he go to prison or not? It’s hard to frame the previous minutes with Stevie after this revelation. The rug is not only pulled out from under us but we’re seemingly rolled up in it. How do we personally reconcile the previous time we spent hearing what happened to Stevie and his own abuse as a child now? This is a question that doesn’t go away but rather continues to perpetuate the film.

We meet Tonya Gregory, Stevie’s Fiance. She ponders occasionally at the prompting of others and sometimes at her own thinking as to who Stevie is and whether or not he’s a “good” guy. Her voice and how she sees him often frames him better than any narration Steve offers. Insightful, guilty, longing, and clear; the rivulets of thought she sheds through to the very end of the film often seemed as if they were my own. We discover that after Stevie’s initial foster parents left for better prospects he was sexually abused. And while meeting with those initial parents years later toward the end of the film we come to find they’d barely stopped multiple sexual situations from happening to Stevie before they’d left. We also learn that Stevie has hurt his own sister, though the events are never clearly described leaving us to wonder horrified at each interaction they share.

We meet some of Stevie’s friends during the film and people from town that have been around him his whole life. They go fishing, his sister helps with his Social Security money, he stops into the Post Office and talks with the clerk who’d been there since he was a boy. But likewise there is a dark side to Stevie of vitriolic hurt and anger, we learn he used to hit his first wife, that he has a lust to see someone dead before moving on when he feels he’s been wronged. He has a conversation with a White Nationalist Leader about getting protection inside prison if he’s convicted. There’s so much to the film that can’t be properly summarized in words. It’s better seen than explained, felt than read, experienced than heard. It’s a personal meditation of what friendship and family look like, and how you to stick by someone even when they’re in the wrong and show them love.

Stevie Trailer

Recommended

Stevie was screened as part of the AFI Docs 2021 Film Festival.

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