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Documentary on campus sex assault opens in New York and California

A woman walks on a college campus in “The Hunting Ground.” (Image courtesy of RADiUS)

“The Hunting Ground,” a documentary that provides first-hand accounts from numerous women and men about sexual violence on college campuses, opens Friday in selected theaters in New York and California and was previewed this week at the White House.

The film, by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, is likely to make waves in higher education because it puts names and faces onto an issue that has seized attention in Washington and at colleges around the country. In it, Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark recount their experiences as students who were raped at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as survivors in an activist movement seeking to force universities to do more to acknowledge a systemic problem, punish perpetrators and prevent future sexual violence.

The film is scheduled to open in selected theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday and in Washington, Boston and Berkeley, Calif., on March 13. It features not only Pino and Clark but also many others who give harrowing accounts of sexual attacks they endured at college — and what they describe as the indifference they encountered from school officials after they reported the incidents.

Clark, Pino, Dick and Ziering were in Washington on Thursday for media interviews. They said they had attended a White House screening of the film Wednesday. Neither President Obama nor the first lady, Michelle Obama, was at the screening, they said, but members of Congress, activists and others attended.

Obama and officials in his administration have spoken often in the past two years about the need to stop campus sexual assault. Clark said she wants the film to raise awareness even further.

“We hope it breaks that fourth wall, so it’s not kept within the echo chamber of survivors and higher education and feminist blogs,” she said. “While those are all great, we just hope the public sees this. You know, your average person sitting down to eat dinner at six o’clock in Kansas.”

College officials are awaiting the film’s release with some nervousness. Nearly 100 schools are under federal investigation for their handling of sexual violence reports. Now, the documentary will bring further scrutiny to many big-name colleges and universities.

At the end, the filmmakers note that they sought response from several schools cited prominently in the film. According to advance press notes, the film states that the leaders of Harvard University, the University of Notre Dame, Florida State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of California at Berkeley, Occidental College and Saint Mary’s College in Indiana “declined to be interviewed for this film.”

An Occidental spokesman raised questions about the reporting underlying “The Hunting Ground”.

James Tranquada said that Ziering, the producer, sent an e-mail to the college on Dec. 18 asking Occidental President Jonathan Veitch for an interview. That was, Tranquada said, just before the college closed for winter break. The query, he said, did not detail allegations that would be the subject of an interview or give the college a deadline for response.

“Our film explores in depth the challenges all schools face in dealing with campus assault and examines some of the issues your institution has encountered,” Ziering wrote Veitch, according to a copy of the query that Tranquada forwarded to The Washington Post. “As such, I’m reaching out to see if you might be available to do an on camera interview with us as we would welcome the opportunity to sit down with a respected leader like yourself who could share with us your thoughts and insights on the issue and how your institution is responding to the current crisis.”

Tranquada said the college chose not to respond in part because the query appeared to lack specifics. In January, the documentary was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Sexual assault is clearly an important story deserving of major coverage, but all this doesn’t seem like a real attempt to get the other side of the story,” Tranquada told The Post in an e-mail.

Dick, the writer/director, and Ziering previously collaborated on “The Invisible War,” a film that investigated rape in the U.S. military. Their latest film is presented by RADiUS and CNN Films.

Asked about Tranquada’s comments, Ziering said: “We are very interested in hearing the other side of the story and have been reaching out to various colleges over the past two years.” She said the filmmakers did not decide which colleges to focus on “until extremely late in the game.” She added: “There was definitely sufficient time to have everybody respond. We would have welcomed that.”

Too often, Dick said, college presidents duck difficult questions about sexual assault. “I think that’s unfortunate,” he said. “What’s needed here is leadership. The people at the top should be speaking out.”

Read more:

Catholic University student recounts her struggle after reporting a sexual assault

Tally of federal probes of sexual violence at colleges grows by 50 percent

Campus discussions increasingly focus on sexual assault

Colleges often reluctant to expel for sexual assault

Men punished in sexual misconduct cases at colleges are fighting back