The Hunting Ground (2015)

Writer & Director: Kirby Dick
Cinematographers: Aaron Kopp & Thaddeus Wadleigh
Composer: Miriam Cutler

In 2012 Kirby Dick directed an incredible and terribly upsetting documentary titled The Invisible War. In his film, Dick focused his lens on the military and the horrifying ways in which the institution goes out of its way to silence and punish rape victims who dare to speak up after the crimes committed against them. The film shed a light on the issues that affects so many people, and his respectful handling of the topic and the outrage he evoked led the film to receive multiple accolades including a Peabody Award and a nomination for an Oscar for best documentary feature. With his newest film Dick tackles once again the topic of sexual assault but zeroes in on a different institution, equally corrupt and problematic in its relations to the issue of rape: American higher education institutions.

Unlike many documentarians that cannot resist inserting themselves into their own narratives and becoming the stars of the films (Werner Herzog, Michael Moore, Bill Maher), Dick always allows his subjects to speak for themselves, whether he is tackling victims of rape, members of the gay community, or even the bizarre character that was the renowned French philosopher Jacques Derrida. And just like in his previous film, it is so important to hear the stories of all the young women (and a few men) who detail the ways in which they were first assaulted by a fellow student and then were further traumatized and brutalized by the universities they attended.

The film is extremely powerful, difficult to watch, affecting, infuriating, horrifying, thought-provoking. I was in tears throughout most of it. One of the institutions that gets the most screen time is the university I attended for two degrees and where I began my teaching career. This made the film all the more affecting to me. My career revolves around higher education and while I see an attempt, at least superficially, to confront this issue (through surveys and even a screening of this movie in the near future) I also know that there is a lot of work to be done to not only raise awareness, but to actually do something about this violent and barbaric crime. Most of the impact this movie will have is when people actually watch it, and they should. A review cannot do it justice and only cheapens its power and detracts from its message. The movie needs to be watched and then spoken about. Rapists need to stop being able to get away with their crimes. Universities must act and help if and when someone discloses. Change must happen and it can no longer wait.


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