REVIEW: The Hunting Ground

22 04 2015

Hunting Ground posterKirby Dick opens “The Hunting Ground” with a montage of one of the happiest moments in a young person’s life – opening their college acceptance letter (set to “Pomp & Circumstance,” no less).  That euphoria quickly dissipates, however, as the attention shifts towards the campuses themselves.  These are, unfortunately, the ominous territories to which the title refers.

Sexual assault, of women and men, on college campuses constitutes nothing less than an epidemic.  An estimated 20% of college females will be raped in their college years, a statistic that alone ought to make you want to vomit.  But it is only the entry point into a culture and system that add insult to injury for survivors of sexual assault.  Dick wisely cites the sources of the information he presents in title cards, making it harder to refute any claim he makes.

“The Hunting Ground” does not make for an infuriating watch simply because of numbers like the astonishing ratio of reported rapes to expulsion at many elite universities.  (Hint: almost no one ever gets kicked out.)  Dick expertly dismantles a complex system of intertwined interests that prevent proper punishment for the perpetrators.  Over the course of an hour and a half, he skewers the fraternity industry (especially SAE), the NCAA sports business (especially at Florida State), and the ever-present need to keep donations high and reported crimes low.

Through it all, he never takes his eye off the real subject of the film – the survivors themselves.  While anger is necessary to dismantle a system of perverse incentives meant to keep these men and women silent, the compassion and empathy we feel for these courageous souls is what will ultimately motivate action.  Speaking personally, this issue only became real for me when two close friends of mine told me about their sexual assaults.  Hopefully “The Hunting Ground” will provide the same impetus for those who are not in a position to hear such things from an acquaintance; it certainly possesses that kind of power and potency.  A- / 3halfstars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 16, 2015)

16 04 2015

This Film Is Not Yet RatedWhen I was in eighth grade, I wrote a research paper on the controversies surrounding the MPAA and the ratings system they provide for the film industry.  As you might imagine, the sources on this topic were somewhat limited.  Much of the information I utilized came from news sites reporting on Kirby Dick’s documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” which had been released the previous fall.

It took me a few years after the paper to finally catch up with my treasured source – keep in mind, Netflix and other video streaming services were not common back in 2007 – and it did not disappoint.  Dick’s film, equal parts salacious journalism and savvy social commentary, is an urgent watch for all those who care about censorship and artistry.  By pulling back the curtain on a major force that shapes the content of cinema, Dick’s documentary is a more than deserving “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

The film may be most famous now for the guerilla tactics employed to discern the identities of the members of the mysterious MPAA ratings board; Dick and private investigator Becky Altringer use some rather drastic techniques to get their targets.  This component of the film makes for good entertainment, sure.

But “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” is so much more than just a behind-the-scenes look at an explosive story.  Dick conducts interviews with a number of famous filmmakers who have endured notorious and public battles with the ratings agency which really serve to drive home the idea that this is an issue for everyone.  It affects our entire culture and the art it produces.  The board may claim to be reflecting the society, but they really do more to perniciously shape it.  Just watch for yourself … and hope that one day there’s a sequel.  Ten years ought to be long enough, right?!

REVIEW: The Invisible War

14 12 2012

The Invisible WarI think the ability to evoke real anger in me is something limited to documentaries.  In a narrative film, when I start to feel such an emotion bubble up inside of me, I can quickly quell it by reminding myself the movie is just that.   It’s fictional, not real.

But in a documentary, when I get mad, I can’t remove myself from the sensation.  The banks ripped us off in “Inside Job.”  The polar ice caps are melting in “Chasing Ice.”  The adorable, innocent dolphins are getting poached in “The Cove.”  And in “The Invisible War,” America’s bravest women are actually being raped at a level so frightening it could honestly be called a epidemic in the military.

The problem of rape is widespread and pervasive throughout the military.  I won’t share the statistics here because seeing them in the context of the film will make you seethe with rage over them all the more.  But in spite of how grand a scale this problem is, director Kirby Dick makes it all the more powerful by bringing it down to the most personal scale possible.  Somehow, he manages to find several women brave enough to sit down, look into a camera, and give all the details of how they were sexually assaulted while in the service of their country.

I dare you not to feel devastated.  I dare you not to feel burning rage.  I dare you not to cry.

“The Invisible War” takes most of its driving narrative force from the story of one woman in particular, Kori Cioca.  When she was raped in the military, she was also beaten in a way that destroyed her jaw.  Several years after the incident, she is totally unable to eat solid foods and cannot go outside in the cold due to the searing pain it causes her.  And her country, specifically the Department of Veterans Affairs, is finding every way possible not to acknowledge her injury.

Kirby Dick’s film exposes a great national shame, one which ought to make us all feel guilty.  He does slightly fumble the ball at the goal line, though, leaving our call to action a little muddled.  Perhaps, at the moment, there is little hope for these women because our government is in denial of their plight.  But where do we go from here?  How can we help these women?

I’d love to know, because after seeing “The Invisible War,” I feel compelled to do everything in my power to make their struggles visible.  A-3halfstars