Great Photo, Lovely Life: Amanda Mustard documentary controversy explained

Daisy Phillipson
Amanda Mustard in Great Photo, Lovely Life

Great Photo, Lovely Life, a confronting new HBO documentary by photojournalist Amanda Mustard, has proven to be divisive among viewers – here’s what the film is about and the controversy surrounding it.

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Whether those words speak the truth is another matter. When you see a photo from decades before, showing a family together with beaming smiles, do you make assumptions about their “happy” lives?

The same can be applied to social media today. Robin Williams’ Sy put it perfectly in One Hour Photo when he said: “People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives… No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.”

The reality of life is far from perfect, as is explored in Great Photo, Lovely Life, a poignant and confronting new documentary from filmmaker and photojournalist Amanda Mustard. Today, we’re here to explore what the film is about and the controversy surrounding it. Warning: Some may find this content distressing. 

Great Photo, Lovely Life: What is the Amanda Mustard documentary about?

Great Photo, Lovely Life is an investigative documentary film by Amanda Mustard, about Amanda Mustard – more specifically, about the decades of child sexual abuse committed by her grandfather Bill Flickinger.

After the death of Amanda’s grandmother and Flickinger’s wife, Salesta – who was called Lois due to the fact that he hated her birth name – the filmmaker sets out to uncover the truth about her grandfather’s crimes, in the hope of bringing some semblance of healing to the survivors. 

What becomes increasingly clear is that theirs is a family who has a problem with truth, with dark and life-shattering secrets being brushed under the carpet. It’s revealed that Amanda’s mom Debi Mustard not only had to deal with their dysfunctional family growing up, but she was also abused by Flickinger from the age of five. 

While she and Amanda speak to a survivor, Debi says: “I tried to protect them [her daughters] at all levels.” But following this, we meet Amanda’s sister Angie, who paints a different picture. 

As a young child, Debi took Angie to live with Flickinger and Salesta as she had nowhere else to go at the time. Angie opens up about being abused repeatedly by Flickinger, and on occasions was left alone with her grandparents for long periods of time.

In one disturbing home video, Flickinger films a young Angie and zooms in and out on her hair to show a bald patch, which she says is something she inflicted on herself as she couldn’t deal with the emotions of what was happening.

Speaking about this moment in the footage, Amanda asks: “Did he know that that was a sign of what he’d done?” To which Angie replies: “I’m sure.” She goes on to say that she doesn’t just blame Flickinger for what he’d done, but also her mother. “She subjected her daughter, put her right in with the very person that hurt her the worst.”

Angie in Great Photo, Lovely Life
Angie opens up about her experiences to Amanda

The one and only time Flickinger went to prison – despite the “dozens” of children he abused – Angie explains: “Mom came into my room and said, ‘I just want to let you know that grandpa went to prison for’ – I think she did say ‘molesting a little girl’ through clenched teeth because she really didn’t want to get the words out, I could tell – she said, ‘Did he ever do anything to you?’ 

“I never turned around. I just said, ‘Mm-hmm.’ And she turned around and left the room. There wasn’t even a hug. To this day, there’s still never been a conversation about that.”

Not only do these difficult conversations play throughout Great Photo, Lovely Life, but there is also repeated footage of Flickinger in recent years, openly discussing his crimes in a matter-of-fact manner. 

Closer to the end of the documentary, Amanda and Debi confront him with two messages they want him to listen to: one from Angie and one from Bonnie Dillard, another survivor. Although he does respond to his granddaughter’s message, he makes excuses, describes the abuse as him being “stupid,” and speaks about his Christian faith, saying he believes they’re going to “walk the streets of glory together one day.”

When it comes to Bonnie’s message, he initially says, “I don’t want to hear it.” They eventually convince him to listen to it, and Debi asks if there’s anything he wants to say, to which he replies: “No.” Not only is it frustrating to watch a man not being held fully accountable for his actions, but it’s also difficult to see a family so broken and damaged conversing openly with the man who committed these heinous crimes. 

Great Photo, Lovely Life: Amanda Mustard documentary’s controversy 

While Great Photo, Lovely Life has received positive reviews, there has been heavy criticism towards the documentary from viewers at home, many feeling disdain towards the lack of justice, and that survivors were told by religious figures in the film to “forgive” their abusers. In Google’s audience reviews, one shared a lengthy post about the film, writing: “Probably the most disappointing endings to a film all women should hate. 

“There are no facts given such as dates of when things happen. The grandmother/wife to the pervert never said a thing about the known abuse to the countless little girls, which they don’t tell you how many women were sexually assaulted. 

“Then her own daughter was sexually abused and she did nothing to protect her. Then that daughter leaves their home, has a daughter of her own, and comes back to that house and tells the grandmother that did nothing for her to watch her child in that disgusting home. And gets her daughter sexually assaulted by her dad. 

Amanda and Debi confront Flickinger in Great Photo, Lovely Life
Amanda and Debi confront Flickinger

“The mom takes no responsibility for putting her daughter in that position and doesn’t consult her with this trauma because she suffered the same thing. And when they do confront the disgusting man they are hugging him and they made it seem as if they were mad and stuff but did nothing but be nice to him. Honestly she the filmmaker got what she wanted and that was views.”

Another said: “Don’t waste your time watching this ‘documentary.’ It will make you sick to your stomach, and you will learn nothing, except the family is full of excuses. I turned it off several times but was curious how it would end. The entire family is a mess over what the grandfather did. The grandmother is also to blame. This family has a history of abuse going back to the great-grandfather.”

A third added: “I did not like how religion was used. No, you don’t have to forgive the person who abused you. That burden does not lie with you. No, I don’t want to pray with you, that’s ridiculous. Who are YOU to pray over me is what I was thinking during a certain scene. 

“I think Amanda tried to do the right thing by her grandfather’s victims but knowing what the right thing is, is difficult. I’ve never understood a mother bringing her children into an environment she knows is inhabited by a pedophile. I would live in my car with my children before I would expose them to abuse.”

Not everyone saw it the same way, however, with one writing on X/Twitter: “Random movie rec, but Great Photo, Lovely Life is an excruciatingly beautiful documentary on HBO Max. As someone who has been a victim of SA and familial trauma, I found it very cathartic and validating. It can be triggering to some so watch at your own discretion.”

Another said: “I just finished watching Great Photo, Lovely Life, a film by @mustardphoto on HBO Max. Moving, uncomfortable, heartbreaking, but also healing. It makes you sit in a weird place with a perspective you don’t really want, but can’t turn away from. Incredible.”

Great Photo, Lovely Life is available to stream on Max now. You can check out more of our documentaries coverage below:

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About The Author

Daisy is a Senior TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's a lover of all things macabre, whether that be horror, crime, psychological thrillers or all of the above. After graduating with a Masters in Magazine Journalism, she's gone on to write for Digital Spy, LADbible and Little White Lies. You can contact her on