In 2012 filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering made “The Invisible War,” a documentary about the horrific epidemic of military sexual assault. The film helped crystallize a heretofore hidden and underreported issue and catalyze a movement to address it, within the Pentagon and beyond.
One can only hope that the team’s new film will go even further.
“The Hunting Ground” continues Dick and Ziering’s lucid and infuriating investigation of sexual violence, in this case the crime of campus rape and the scandalous lack of response on the part of college administrators and local law enforcement. From its first moments, compiled from YouTube videos of ecstatic high school seniors getting their acceptance letters, “The Hunting Ground” makes clear that its message isn’t just intellectual, legal and political, but deeply emotional. In a series of harrowing interviews, young women — and a few young men — recount in sickening detail how they were attacked, raped, threatened and discounted on the very campuses that should have been safe harbors for their learning and personal growth.
Unlike the military assaults Dick and Zierling uncovered in “The Invisible War,” campus rape isn’t a secret.
But as the filmmakers convincingly maintain, that’s not for lack of trying by university brass who, in desperate competition for tuition dollars and alumni contributions, have gone out of their way to talk students out of reporting assaults or obfuscate their own poor records. “The Hunting Ground” chronicles the efforts of campus rape survivors Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, who can be seen literally connecting the dots to reveal the breadth and depth of campus rape culture, and who have shrewdly reframed it as a violation of female students’ rights under Title IX.
As inspiring as these efforts are, “The Hunting Ground” is still most effective as an emotional experience and, with luck, as a galvanizing one. Viewers will note that the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity — whose initials, according to some in the film, have been known to stand for “sexual assault expected” — is the one whose members made the news this week for singing a racist chant. With its unflinching portrayal of cynical school officials and their corrupt symbiosis with the sports teams and Greek systems to which they’re beholden, “The Hunting Ground” is, at its most basic, a damning indictment of entitlement and impunity.
PG-13. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains disturbing thematic material involving sexual assault, and profanity. 90 minutes.