Kirby Dick’s latest documentary is a look at how colleges and universities turn a blind eye to sexual assault, told via the experiences of survivors. 3.5 stars.
“I just kind of stayed in my room for a couple of months,” one young woman tells the camera, describing what happened after she was sexually assaulted as an undergraduate. “My days and nights were mixed up.” Another explains softly that she couldn’t tell her parents that she was raped at college, because then “that would have been in their minds whenever they looked at me.” And another, speaking bluntly, looks for words to explain why she didn’t somehow get away, or fight back. “You just stay there,” she said, the pain of remembering written on her face, “and you hope you don’t die.”
“The Hunting Ground,” Kirby Dick’s documentary about sexual assault on university campuses, is important but devastating viewing. Like his previous film “The Invisible War,” which dealt with rape in the military, “The Hunting Ground” presents a series of women’s faces (and a few men’s), speaking frankly and painfully about what happened to them. Other voices gradually join the discussion, adding weight to the film’s argument that numerous colleges and universities are creating a favorable climate for assault by looking the other way — not taking accusations seriously; declining to punish those who assault, or meting out laughably insufficient punishment (one accused rapist was, we hear, “expelled upon graduation”); turning a blind eye to reports of sexual assault by athletes, in order to protect the team’s winning record.
It’s a film likely to make you furious, and rightly so, just as it’s breaking your heart. (Listen to the father of a young woman who killed herself after her report of an assault by a football player was seemingly ignored by campus investigators. If you can.) But, within the ire and the pain, there’s hope. Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, both victims of sexual assault during their college years, are featured in the film; these two bright, driven young women are now activists, traveling the country to speak out, to change a culture, to try to make the kind of stories we hear in “The Hunting Ground” a thing of the past. May they, and every voice in this film, be heard.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘The Hunting Ground,’ a documentary directed by Kirby Dick. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material involving sexual assault, and for language. SIFF Cinema Egyptian. Investigative producer Amy Herdy will host a panel discussion after the 7 p.m. screening Friday, April 17.