When Rewind’s director Sasha Joseph Neulinger was born, no one could find his father. After hours of searching, and long after Sasha had been delivered, Sasha’s father Henry appeared with a video camera. As Sasha’s mom Jacqui recalls to her son, it put a wall between Henry and the family, yet Henry gleefully says, “This is the most documented family in the world.”
Even without knowing what Rewind is about, this documentation makes it clear that something happened to Sasha at a young age. Early on, Sasha was a happy child, playful and praised as gifted by his teachers. Yet it doesn’t take long before a shift occurs. Sasha becomes angry, uncontrollable, and even suicidal. Rewind opens with a young Sasha addressing the camera, introducing his viewers to his show, “The Shit Diaries,” and soon, that becomes an understatement.
Rewind is Neulinger’s courageous attempt to dig into his past through extensive video archives as a way to reckon with the sexual abuse and rape that he suffered as a small child. Neulinger’s journey is harrowing and a rough watch from beginning to end, but it’s a necessary story to behold.
Neulinger shows the family gatherings that are now full of unspoken secrets. Henry’s brother Larry is the joker of the family, while the older brother Howard is a renowned opera singer, and Larry’s son Stewart would come to live with the Neulinger family. Neulinger doesn’t just focus on his own abuse. His sister Bekah also had her own tragic childhood at the hands of these men, and Neulinger shows a history of abuse – both sexual and otherwise – that has been passed through the father’s side of his family for generations.
Neulinger’s footage is chilling as he reveals more details about his family. A playful look between family members becomes a grimace hiding malice. At one point, Howard holds Sasha as a young baby and kisses him, and we can almost see the distrust and fear in the baby’s eyes. But even more revealing are the interviews Neulinger conducts in the present day with his family about the incidents of the past. Neulinger has documents from police and psychiatrists that are chilling to view, including drawings used by these kids to explain what happened to them.
The interviews with Neulinger’s parents are especially heartbreaking. Jacqui at one point remembers a time when Sasha thought that his mother was going to kill him, and in another, recalls a moment that she didn’t think was too out of the ordinary and now seem filled with red flags that she unfortunately didn’t catch. But the film’s most difficult moments come from Henry, who was ignorant about the abuse his brothers could inflict on his children, and in an astonishingly frank and excruciating moment, Henry walks Sasha through the rape he suffered at the hands of his own brother. Yet despite a past full of trauma and confusion, Rewind is ultimately a documentary full of hope. Sasha shows that it’s the love of his family that helped him stay sane during the hard times, and allowed him to live a full, healthy life.
Like Capturing the Friedmans, even though Rewind is often extremely difficult to stomach, it’s also essential viewing. In many ways, Rewind is another step of therapy for Neulinger, as he walks through the entire journey, all the way to the courtrooms where he had to testify against his own uncles. Yet Neulinger isn’t wringing his family’s tragedy for his own means, he’s reckoning with his past. He shows there is a future for those with similar histories and presents just how prevalent sexual abuse is, even within families. Neulinger made it through some of the worst pain imaginable, and Rewind shows that no matter your background, there’s hope.
Rewind is available to watch here.