Sasha Joseph Neulinger knows how to tell a story about the sexual abuse of a small boy so that viewers can’t turn away even when they most want to.

What’s more remarkable is that he was once that small boy.

After premiering at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival to critical acclaim, Rewind, a documentary about surviving abuse both by family members and the justice system that required that he relive the trauma for years afterward, makes its television debut on Monday on PBS’ Independent Lens.

(One uncle, Lawrence Nevison, and his son, Stewart Nevison, pleaded guilty to felonies and were sent to prison in connection with separate incidents with Neulinger. In a case that made headlines, another uncle, Howard Nevison, then the cantor at a prominent New York synagogue, denied the charges that he’d abused the boy from the ages of 4 to 7, but in a 2006 deal, agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanors and was spared a prison term.)

A former child actor whose credits included Shallow Hal and Unbreakable, Neulinger lived in Rosemont and attended Gladwyne Elementary School until moving to Allentown at the age of 10. He now lives in Montana, where he and his wife, Lauren, and their puppy are riding out the coronavirus pandemic in relative isolation. “We live in a very rural part of the state. So there’s like one grocery store and not a lot of people.”

It was as he was graduating from Montana State University’s film school that Neulinger began to realize that despite years of therapy, the trauma of his childhood wasn’t done with him.

“I had a really awesome job with a company that was working on National Geographic television. I was you know, hiking, fishing, and doing all the things that I loved. But there was still this self-deprecating voice in the back of my mind that would say, “Sasha, you’re dirty, you’re disgusting, unlovable.” And I wanted to find out where that voice was coming from. I figured that maybe there’d be some answers in some of my old childhood home video,” Neulinger said Wednesday.

He had called his father, Henry Nevison, a documentary filmmaker (On the Other Side of the Fence), and asked if he still had any videotapes from his son’s childhood. To his surprise, his father had “three huge boxes and over 200 hours of home video,” said Neulinger, whose name change is dealt with in Rewind.

“It was after watching the first six tapes that I realized that this was going to be a film,” he said, as “for every answer I received about my past, 10 new questions would arise.”

Neulinger talked with The Inquirer about his film, seven years in the making, about seeing his parents with new eyes, and about the Flyers. This interview has been edited and condensed.

The things that this film deals with are so devastating that it’s a surprise to find that it’s as much about constructive criticism of a system as it is about what happened to you. It’s even somewhat hopeful. How much time and therapy did it take for you to be able to present something as nuanced as this is?

Well, I started therapy before I ever disclosed what was happening. And I spent 13 years in therapy with Dr. [Herbert] Lustig, and that’s what it took, you know, to get to this place where I felt like I could share this story.

My last day in court was the day before my 17th birthday, and a year later, I moved as far away as I could, to Montana. My time in Montana, while I was at film school, those were the first five consecutive years of my life where child abuse wasn’t the primary focus of my existence. So it was really that move, and to be able to have space from what happened, that was equally as important as the incredible therapeutic service I received from Dr. Lustig.

» READ MORE: In HBO's "The Tale," Narberth's Jennifer Fox turns to fiction to tell her own true, tough story

Beyond contributing all that footage from your childhood, and being interviewed, did your father play any role in making the film?

My dad wasn’t involved as a filmmaker, he was involved as a subject. And I think that’s really important. My dad is an incredibly gifted filmmaker and the big inspiration in my life. But there has to be some separation, right? There was already a lot to balance for me, directing and being a subject. I can’t imagine a world in which my family was part of the construction of the film.

He’s not only an inspiration to me as a filmmaker, but what a brave and courageous choice, not only to hand over the footage to me, but then to allow me to just do what I needed to do. I mean, there’s a lot of vulnerability there. He allowed me to take ownership of the story.

What was it like to look at that footage? Seeing your transformation once the abuse had started, I think it’s hard for other people to watch.

When I was a kid going through all this, a lot of my time was spent just trying to survive to the next day. When a child is experiencing that level of trauma, it’s hard to retain beautiful moments. I would watch moments from my childhood — beautiful moments, gorgeous, joyful moments that I had completely forgotten about. Because they had been overshadowed by the trauma. And so I was able to reclaim these beautiful memories that had been lost, which was extremely healing and cathartic.

And at the same time, I got to observe my parents more objectively now as an adult. I got to observe my abusers now more objectively as an adult. And that led to a series of new questions and really important and cathartic conversations with my mom [Jacqui Neulinger], with my dad, and with the professionals involved in my case.

You know, it was incredibly emotional to watch that footage, to see an innocent child who has a zest for life and to watch that child — to watch myself — lose that light.

Didn’t your time as a child actor occur as you were dealing with the abuse, or its aftermath?

Absolutely, and honestly, acting was so important for me. I felt like I couldn’t escape my trauma. I was in constant therapy sessions. I was constantly being asked to talk to police. I was constantly needing to prepare for different court dates. And when I was able to act, I was able to express my emotions, but do it in an alternative universe.

I’m really not interested in acting anymore. But I do really love filmmaking. I love being able to craft an entire story and being able to share that as opposed to just sharing the emotions of a character.

Has Philly lost you forever to Montana?

I’m going to live in Montana for the rest of my life. I love it here. But the Philadelphia Flyers are with me every single day of my life in Montana. I read every article, I watch every game. I am the biggest Flyers nerd on the planet. I play hockey here in Montana. When I’m practicing and I don’t have to wear my team’s jersey, I’m wearing a Flyers jersey. My kids that we plan to have one day are going to be die-hard Flyers fans.

Independent Lens: Rewind. 10 p.m. Monday, WHYY12.