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Just Melvin
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Sundance Review

"There are few subjects as abhorrent to our sensibilities as incest, particularly when it involves very young children, and Just, Melvin chronicles a truly monstrous case. The film tells the story of an individual whose path of destruction was so insidious and devastating that it's almost impossible not to be provoked to feelings as varied as sympathy, rage, and disgust. That this is not an account by an outsider but the story of a survivor makes it all the more remarkable and significant, but not any easier to digest... That the filmmaker was the subject of abuse and managed to 'escape' his madly dysfunctional upbringing is only one of the many elements that make this film so intriguing. But Just, Melvin is a story that will never have a happy ending, a chilling and candid portrait of the cycles and consequences of abuse." Read more...
                                                                                                                -- Geoffrey Gilmore

Seattle International Film Festival
May 18 - June 11, 2000
Just, Melvin

Fiction pales next to this exceptional work, which received Best Documentary at both the Santa Barbara and the Newport Beach film festivals. First-time filmmaker, James Ronald Whitney has created a devastating portrait of a monster, Melvin Just; that the subject happens to be Whitney's own grandfather only makes this documentary even more stunning. Whitney faithfully tracks the path of Just's history, and the countless family members, including Whitney's own mother, who suffered irreparable damage at the hands of a man who subjected his biological daughters, as well as those he gained by two marriages, to constant and indiscriminate abuse...These women share gut-wrenching tales of sexual violation, often beginning when they were toddlers. Sometimes they speak haltingly or angrily, other times in a matter-of-fact monotone, as they look into Whitney's camera and recall events that seem almost surreal in their cruelty...As difficult as it sounds, the film actually seems to offer a sense of catharsis and relief to many of the participants, taught so long to deny or ignore their pain. Whitney himself views the film as a promise he made to his mother to expose Just and validate the family's experience, and his artful persistence and thoroughness in recording their story is nothing less than remarkable.

indieWIRE: Seattle International Film Festival
June 20, 2000
Just, Melvin

Like most things in life, SIFF is not all bad. One move that amounted to a virtual coup this year was the local premiere of "Just, Melvin." This harrowing documentary about generations of sexual abuse in a northwestern family was recently picked up by HBO for its American Undercover documentary series. First-time director James Ronald Whitney created the disturbing film, the reality of which was brought home by the attendance of eight of the women who are the subjects of the film. The family arrived in a limo, greeted by a small clutch of photographers (the director wanted things low-key) and astounded the audience with their courage and directness. Since the film features graphic descriptions of sexual abuse, you can bet money it will never be rented from Blockbuster.
                                                                                                                -- -- Cal Godot

A jackhammer gut-punch of a documentary, James R. Whitney's confessional feature is a family album from hell starring his own dynasty of dysfunction. Imagine a V.C. Andrews horror paperback inbred with David Lynch, John Waters, and Luis Bunuel. Rape, murder, suicide, addiction, incest, genetic damage, karaoke, auto mechanics, and TV game shows. Whitney's once-lusty grandma, now withered, bedridden, and possibly tortured by her, uh, caregiver, was married five times (but "only four different guys," she assures). One of the prizes she brought home was Melvin Just, junkyard owner, Bible reader, and avid child molester whose sick appetites engulfed their extended Pacific Northwest family beginning in the 1950s. Authorities were unable or unwilling to interfere, and now Just's relatives and casualties litter the region, drunk in trailer parks, turning tricks, and/or fantasizing about different ways to kill the man who rotted the family tree. James and his mother escaped the worst, the boy into show business, appearing repeatedly on "Star Search" and now wielding a movie camera, the weapon by which he hopes to Get Even with Granddad. But even as aunts and uncles spew hateful accusations against wheelchair-bound Melvin Just, James underestimates how much hold the old guy still has, and the wrenching finale perverts ?family values? worse than any political candidate yet.

San Diego International Film Festival
March, 2000
Just, Melvin

In this painfully intimate record of the horrific legacy left by Whitney's grandfather, Melvin Just... this exceptional documentary is a chilling wake-up call for all of us who'd rather just turn away.

San Diego International Film Festival
April 26, 2000
Just, Melvin

"It is one of the most powerful disturbing and well-made documentaries I've ever seen."
                                                                                                                -- Ruth Baily, Festival Director

Director, James Ronald Whitney sends his sincere apologies for the cancellation of his film. Fortunately for him, unfortuntely for us, he has sold JUST , MELVIN to a US distributor and they categorically refuse to honor our screening. This is exactly what happened to us with The Blair Witch Project: we booked it, it sold before our screening date, and Artisan refused to honor our screening date.
JUST, MELVIN is a remarkable, very disturbing documentary about a damaged family, and one man in particular who seems to be the embodiment of true evil . Well worth seeing when it opens; but defintely not for anyone who is easily disturbed or easily offended.

South By Southwest Film Festival 2000
March, 2000

Something strange happened in James Ronald Whitney's family. As 'Just, Melvin' opens, we hear voices describing things no one should know about...The candid grit in these utterances evokes a tender curiosity, rather than embarrassment or sickly fascination, and the scenes that follow simultaneously enrage and leave the viewer wanting to know more about this strange family history.
Documentarian Whitney takes us down the rocky path of his life haunted by the chilling reality of...a sensitive subject rarely treated effectively in cinema...'Just, Melvin' is a poignant documentary...a perfect vengeance is executed in the film, and only the wounds that have healed are revealed.
                                                                                                                -- Sativa January

Santa Barbara International Film Festival
March, 2000

"...This is an extraordinary documentary: If ever a film can do so, this personal story reveals the inexplicable mix of love and disgust that are...so outside the realm of 'normal' dysfunction."
                                                                                                                -- Betsy Cramer

May, 2000

"Written and directed by James Ronald Whitney direct from its award-winning presentation at the 2000 South by Southwest Film Festival...Whitney has crafted a searing and haunting portrait of his step-grandfather, Melvin Just...Whitney's family story is shocking and unforgettable."
                                                                                                                -- IFP/WEST (Los Angeles)

July 19 - August 6, 2000

In this shattering, but phenominally powerful documentary, director James Ronald Whitney states that by the time the production is complete he hopes to see his grandfather dead or jailed. The remainder is his quest to keep his promise. TV Quiz show champion, Chippendale dancer, composer and now filmmaker, Whitney is able to assemble a chilling and candid portrait of the cycles and consequences of child abuse.

Just, Melvin

Director: James Ronald Whitney

USA 2000

96 mins colour 35mm

Just, Melvin is a film that's won glowing reviews wherever it's been shown. 'A lacerating portrait of a monster who molested almost everyone in two families - one of the best documentaries of the year,' said the US film critic Roger Ebert. 'A harrowing American Gothic family portrait full of humor, insight and rage...easily the most jaw dropping documentary to come along in a decade,' according to film critic Aaron Gell. Melvin Just is the monster at the heart of this film. His grandson, first-time director James Ronald Whitney, former Chippendale, TV quiz show king, and - most recently - Vice President at a Wall Street firm, promised that by the end of this film his grandfather would either be dead or in prison for life. Despite the film being upsetting and disturbing - dealing as it does with both incest and murder - it is tempered with moments of real humour and warmth. You'll leave the cinema outraged yet curiously uplifted.

Best Documentary, Santa Barbara International Film Festival; Best Documentary, Newport Beach Film Festival; Best Documentary, South Beach Film Festival.

Presented with the support of the Embassy of the United States of America.

Country: USA
Runtime: 96 min.
Director: James Ronald Whitney
Language: n/a
Premier Status: Canadian
Event Code: JUSTM
Film Title: Just, Melvin

"A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;" --Ecclesiastes 3:4

First-time filmmaker James Ronald Whitney offers a graphic and startling spin on the American Gothic with this remarkable documentary on the devastation of physical and sexual abuse in his mother's family. Interviews and family snapshots are intercut with footage of Whitney as an 80s dance and game show competitor providing a biographical context for investigation. The film is unapologetically therapy for those involved. It is also undeniably voyeuristic but beware--this voyeurism poses a challenge. This is Americana with a bite. At the center of this dysfunctional extended family is Melvin Just--the monster who is Whitney's step-grandfather. Promising to see him dead or in prison by the end of the film, Whitney documents the history of violent abuse suffered by Just's wives, children and step-children. Having served time for child abuse, Melvin Just's health prevents him from being extradited to California to face charges for the rape and murder of a nurse, which four of his daughters vividly recall. When Whitney confronts him, Grandpa denies everything, seemingly more concerned with his burger than the heinous crimes of which he is accused. The journey climaxes as the daughters gather to visit Just in an extended care home. In startlingly candid, horrifying and funny interviews with his mother, grandmother and aunts, Whitney examines the cycles of violence and the resulting poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and suicide attempts. Despite the tragedy the family retains their sense of humour and even acknowledge it is "okay if not everybody gets it."

Just, Melvin

Director: James Ronald Whitney
Category: Documentary
Running Time: 96:00
This hard hitting documentary takes you on the filmmaker's journey to bring his abusive grandfather to justice. Through interviews with Whitney's own family the legacy of terror that was Melvin Just is revealed along with how his children, step-children and grandchildren still survived to live, laugh and even love.

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just, melvin
James Ronald Whitney
'Melvin Just was de tweede echtgenoot van de grootmoeder van regisseur James Ronald Whitney. Just misbruikte zowel zijn eigen als zijn stiefkinderen, vanaf de tijd dat ze een jaar of twee oud waren. Hij bood ze drugs aan, prostitueerde ze voor geld en maakte foto¹s. Als hij tot een kwart kon penetreren, gaf hij ze een kwartje. Bij volledige penetratie verdienden ze een dollar. Deze kinderen raakten later verslaafd aan alcohol of drugs, kregen nachtmerries, deden zelfmoordpogingen of gingen zelf tot kindermisbruik over. Een van hen probeerde Just als kind te vermoorden met een ongeladen geweer. Ze praten erover met een apart gevoel voor humor, maar voelen nog steeds pijn, angst en haat. Whitneys moeder probeerde meermalen zelfmoord te plegen. Whitney spreekt met haar en met andere familieleden en confronteert Just met de beschuldigingen. Maar hoewel Just eenmaal tot dertien jaar cel is veroordeeld, ontkent hij nog steeds alles. Ook de door de kinderen waargenomen, maar nooit bestrafte moord op een protesterende maatschappelijk werkster.
Melvin Just was the second husband of director James Ronald Whitney¹s grandmother. Just abused both his natural children and his stepchildren from the time when they were around two years old. He offered them drugs, prostituted them for money and took pictures. If he could penetrate them for one quarter, he gave them a quarter. In the case of full penetration, they earned a dollar. Later in their lives, these children got addicted to alcohol or drugs, they had nightmares, they made suicide attempts or they proceeded to commit child abuse themselves. One of them tried to kill Just as a child, with an unloaded rifle. They talk about it with a peculiar sense of humour, but they still feel pain, fear and hatred. Whitney¹s mother tried to kill herself several times. Whitney speaks with her and other relatives and confronts Just with the accusations. Although Just was once sentenced to thirteen years in jail, he continues to deny everything, even the murder - witnessed by the children - of a demurring social worker, for which he was never convicted.

Director: James Ronald Whitney
Photography: John Taggart
Screenplay: James Ronald Whitney
Editing: James Ronald Whitney, Connie Walsh
Sound: Cyclops Pictures and Sound
Music: James Ronald Whitney, Brent Argovitz
Production: James Ronald Whitney, Production 920
Distribution: James Ronald Whitney
World Sales: James Ronald Whitney
Print Source: Production 920
Awards, premieres:
Awards: Best Documentary Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Best Documentary South by Southwest Film Festival, Austin
Best Documentary South Beach Film Festival
Best Documentary Newport Beach Film Festival international premiere
James Ronald Whitney: directing debut

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