“Disfluency,” a new short film from director Laura Holliday, starts with a university lecture on conversational speech. The professor points out that we often stutter, pause, or use filler words in our conversations. As he speaks, his lecture is intercut with scenes of Jane (Libe Barer), a young college student, doing all of those things as she goes about her daily life.
Her repeated use of the phrase “I’m sorry” is the eponymous disfluency: often unnoticed interruptions in the otherwise smooth flow of speech.
Shortly after, Jane is raped at a party. The aftermath of this becomes her new disfluency; no one knows what happened. She can’t bring herself to admit it, to her friends, her boyfriend, or even herself. Whenever she tries to speak, she pauses or simply apologizes again.
These feelings of shame and isolation are typical of any sexual assault story. Where “Disfluency” diverges from the norm, however, is in its critical examination of how these feelings are normalized.
Based on the real experience of writer/producer Anna Baumgarten, the film is an upsetting reminder of the lack of action against sexual assault despite increased awareness of its occurrence. No one knows what to say to Jane besides “I’m sorry,” alluding back to the earlier lecture.
“When we use words as speech disfluencies, we diminish their intended impact,” her professor says. “We strip them of their meaning.”
“Disfluency” asks if we have done the same with sexual assault. It suggests that it has become an expected, unnoticed interruption in our culture but expresses hope that this can change if allies can start to do something besides say “I’m sorry.”
Holliday is an alumnus of the Sundance Ignite Fellowship program.
You can watch the full short below: