The Hunting Ground is a movie that has been grabbing a lot of attention and making some wave on the festival circuit this year as it looks at the numbers of rape and sexual assaults on U.S. college campuses and how little is being done to deal with the problem.
The movie sees Kirby Dick back in the director's chair as he reunites with producer Amy Ziering for their first project together since The Invisible War.
We caught up with Amy to chat about the film, tackling a similar theme to The Invisible War and what she hopes will come out of making this movie.
- The Hunting Ground is you new film, so can you tell me a bit about it?
The Hunting Ground is an expose on the epidemic on college campuses in America.
- The movie sees you reunite with director Kirby Dick, so where did this project start for you? And what was the appeal of returning to a similar topic that you had covered in The Invisible War?
We weren't planning on doing a film with a similar topic; typically we don't as we are a filmmaking team and we delve into different areas. While we were going around on campuses showing The Invisible War, every time we screened it someone in the audience would come up to us and say 'this happened to me here and there are a lot of similarities between what going on in the military to what I experienced with my administration.' This just kept happening over and over again.
We were working on a very different film for HBO and, after a few months of it, we started getting letters in our inbox from kids around the country asking us to look at this issue and make a film on it. It was something that took us very much by surprise and we were reluctant at first because we don't usually like to do two things consecutively on a similar topic. When we starting doing our own investigating we realised that this problem was even worse. We called HBO as asked if we could put off the film and started making this one.
- As I sat down to watch this movie I had no idea about the severity of this issue on college campuses in America. When you starting digging and discovering the facts, how shocked were you at what was going on and - to a certain extent - being allowed to go on by the schools?
Completely shocked. What you experienced as a first time viewer is what I experienced as a first time investigator and also as a parent. I have three daughters and, at the time, one of them was in school. This was not something that I was concerned about or something that was even on my radar. I was shocked throughout and I couldn't believe the responses of the administrators; it just didn't compute. Of course, I believed the students but, for me, it was hard for me to comprehend that this was going on. To me, the attitudes and the things that were being described to me sounded like they were from the 1950s or something and was not something that could really be happening right now.
- You did all of the interviews with the survivors - as you did with The Invisible War - how was your experience of spending time with these men and women as they are telling you something incredibly intimate and personal?
It was a hard experience but it does pale in comparison to what they are going through. I don't really like to talk about it in terms of a taxing role of an interviewer because what I feel is just a fraction of what they have gone through. It was hard and it was harrowing to hear these survival stories but I was just awed by the courage of the people who were coming forward and talking to us.
- How important a role do you think The Invisible War played in making people come forward and trust you as you were making The Hunting Ground?
I think it The Invisible War helped a great deal. Not only did it help people trust us and have confidence in us, but it also served as a model for people to see that coming forward could be empowering and could bring about change. The Invisible War did have a huge impact in the United States as well as other places around the globe.
I think that The Invisible War was extremely helpful in terms of the comfort of people coming forward and wanting to speak with us. Also, The Invisible War opened up this discourse in the States in a way that made it seem ok to start transparently talking about this issue in a way that we never have before. I think that had a lot to do with it.
- Annie and Andrea feature heavily in the film and they have used what happened to them in a very positive way - they want to help other survivors and they want to see change in the college system when dealing with these kinds of crime. As an audience member, I couldn't help but be inspired by their story and their strength, what did you make of these two women when you met them?
When we met them we were totally impressed, but we were following a lot of other activists that were equally as impressive. I was wowed by all the people in this movement as they were all so smart, thoughtful, very strategic, and wise beyond on their years about navigating systems. What was interesting about them, when we started out with Annie and Andrea, Andrea was a student at UNC (University of North Carolina).
Twenty months later, for her to be travelling to the White House was... this wasn't reality TV, we were just randomly following people. You couldn't have cast more perfectly and we really did get lucky with the trajectory of their journey. It really has been an incredibly successful effort that they have launched.
- How did you select the schools that we see in the film? Did you have schools in mind that you wanted to feature or did you just follow the stories?
It was a combination of the two. It was more about following the stories, but we know that we wanted to end up with schools that were representative of a whole genre of schools; we wanted one Ivy League, we wanted on big state school, we wanted a West Coast school.
There were certain things that we needed so that when the film finished, the audience wouldn't think that it only happened in a certain kind of a school. In that way, we were definitely strategic but we definitely shot many many stories and we didn't know which ones were going to end up in the film.
- Once again, The Hunting Ground sees you go up against a major institution that is more interested in protecting its image/reputation that dealing with this problem. When it came to shooting, how did this movie compare to making The Invisible War?
It was surprisingly more difficult this time around. It was more difficult to get high-level administrators to talk candidly on camera that it was for us to talk to anyone at the Pentagon; which is pretty amazing. If you'd have asked me before we started making this film if that would have been the case, I would have thought 'no.' We went into this not expecting the level of sheer reluctance and resistance that we got every step of the way from anyone at these institutions. That was very very surprising and disappointing.
- How frustrating was it to not be able to get the colleges to talk about what was happening?
Obviously, you really want those interviews but then you just have to figure out a way to make the movie work without them. We were very much looking forward to being able to work with and at least talk to someone at the schools we were focusing on. When that didn't happen, we just decided to put these stories forward in this way without that element because we just didn't have it. With any kind of filmmaking, you just go with what you have.
- The movie has been playing on the festival circuit, so how have you been finding the response to the film?
The film has been responded to incredibly so far - it has been unbelievable actually. We thought we couldn't top the reception of The Invisible War and we have equalled it - it not exceeded it. In the States, we were doing like a hundred campus screening a week, which was amazing. There were standing room only crowds. I talked to Annie and Andrea last week and they said they were at Rutgers University in Jersey where it was an incredibly huge turnout.
At all the screening sessions that I have been to in the States, there have been incredibly long Q&A sessions with survivors and activists standing up. It has been quite exciting and it is working to really give wind to what is going on and to help the activists leverage that and go further with it. There are administrators who are trying to do the right thing but they just can't get any traction and support; I think the film is helping them as well.
- Finally, what do you hope people will take away from the film when they see it? And what do you hope this film will do in terms of shining a light on this issue?
I hope people have a different understanding of this crime. What I like to say and I hope the film get across, is that 92-98% if the time when someone reports a rape, they are telling the truth; which is statistically identical to any other crime in our society. However, this is the only crime that when you report it, people think it is a miscommunication or can't figure out what has happened. Statistics and studies show that this is not the case. It would be extremely odd to make this up as there is no glory in reporting and most people only report in order to protect someone else.
Our society needs to understand this issue very differently and start supporting victims and not criminals. The attitude shift is one of the main things that I hope comes out of this film. I also want people to start believing survivors - that is step one. You need to respond in the same way as you would if someone is hit by a car; with empathy, and compassion. I think that we would see a dramatic social shift. Those are two of the most important things that I would like to see happen as a result of this film.