Actors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Diane Rosenfeld
Director: Kirby Dick
Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
Region: Region 1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: ANCHOR BAY
DVD Release Date: December 1, 2015
Run Time: 104 minutes
Documentaries are so rarely unbiased that we have sadly come to see the examination of facts on screen as little more than propaganda. This is not to say that there isn’t truth in the information being provided audiences, but it is no longer enough to simply accept everything you are told in a non-fiction film. Most views expressed can be countered by the opposition, but this becomes more impactful when the facts provided in a documentary come into question. It is one thing to share one side of an argument, but it is another to adjust the facts so that your side has more strength. The reality is that many of the truths in The Hunting Ground have been overshadowed by the instances in the documentary where facts are stretched and bent to support the cause.
Taking on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses in the United States, The Hunting Ground bounces back and forth between testimonials from victims and statistics (some of which have come into question since the film’s release). Not only does the film seek to expose the likeliness of rape occurring on college campuses, but it spends a majority of the running time condemning the universities for their refusal to address the problem. If the schools are simply businesses, they must be concerned with the negative publicity that comes with public cases of sexual assault. As a result, very few universities are willing to address the problem at all.
Among the film’s victims are a group of girls who took their experience and decided to fight back against the system of institutional cover-up. This struggle for victim advocacy is at the center of the narrative, supported by the occasional emotional testimonial from victims and a series of statistics sporadically inserted onscreen. This battle against the business of higher education seems daunting, so it is easy to excuse the overzealous nature of filmmaker Kirby Dick in supporting them. Unfortunately, in doing so, he may have simultaneously done some harm to the cause.
While I appreciate the frustration towards institutions that seemingly hide the crimes of rape occurring on campus, the film also includes instances where the alleged crime was brought to court, but refrains from sharing the instances where inconsistencies in testimony led to the dismissal of charges. There is one case within The Hunting Ground which has received the most amount of attention from skeptics, not only because the accuser’s story changed shape over time and the fact that charges were eventually dropped, but especially because of the minor celebrity of the alleged rapist.
This accused college football player is the only alleged rapist named in the many testimonials given on camera for The Hunting Ground. While I completely respect the segment of the film addressing the favoritism schools show towards their athletes, including the statistics and facts proving they are often only punished after the conclusion of their college sports career, it also makes the film come off rather hypocritical. While it is quite clear that universities rely heavily upon the monetary support of their athletics departments, encouraging an unhealthy amount of celebrity within their students in order to boost the value of their franchise, The Hunting Ground is no better when the only accused named is also the most famous.
Using the fame of one of the accused to help sell your cause (and simultaneously your documentary) may be more admirable than using it to sell tickets to a football game, but the actions are the same once intent is removed. Furthermore, it only hurts the film’s cause to discover the many facts about this case that are simply left out of the narrative. Even if it is only a small percentage of alleged rape victims who are lying (as the film covers in one of many questionable collections of studies), including even one in your narrative is remarkably damaging to an otherwise worthwhile cause at the heart of the documentary. This mistake may have been easier to dismiss without the nagging feeling that the truth was ignored due to the attention including a minor celebrity in the narrative was sure to give this documentary. And even now, with many criticizing this tactic, the controversy of this decision likely brought more attention to this documentary than it would have otherwise.
The DVD release includes additional testimonies, just in case the dozen included in the film are not impactful enough. Also included is a featurette with student activists Annie and Andrea answering questions about their journey trying to change the system.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 8/10