Director Kirby Dick is responsible for the best documentary of all time (in my view, anyway) and if this all sounds familiar because you’ve read my reviews and heard my thoughts on this topic, then you’ll forgive me for mentioning his 1997 documentary masterpiece “Dick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist”. No film – not even 2014’s Life Itself, although it was close – has come so tantalisingly close to capturing the human spirit and death as Sick did.
Every time Kirby Dick releases a new picture, it gets me giddy with excitement. He’s an in-depth, more considered Michael Moore; when he wants to be. He delves right under the skin and, usually, he has a final trick up his sleeve. Tricks work best when they are unexpected; take 1994’s Hoop Dreams, for example – following two young lads and their quest to become basketball superstars, until a strange turn of events changes the film’s trajectory till the end. You may also remember Dick’s arguably most famous work “This Film is Not Yet Rated” where, in the final act, he submits the very documentary you’re watching for classification. A clandestine, money-grubbing MPAA refuse to do so and so “Rate” ends on a deeply ironic and pessimistic note, proving its own point.
And now, to The Hunting Ground. Kirby Dick and co-director Amy Ziering dig up the hushed tones of life at university. Specifically, the life of the young, naive girls who enrol and end up in the wrong frat house at the wrong time and are on the receiving end of sexual abuse. It’s undoubtedly a prevalent and scorching issue that ahs beena round for years, and still continues to this day. There’s a helluva lot opf cash tied up in these abusive Jock’s future, what with all the connections to real superstardom and donations coming their way. It’s not gone unnoticed that the UK could follow suit (after all, we are becoming more Americanised month to month).
So – the point of the film – if you’re the dean of a college, and you’re presented with a victim, and her assailant, and the assailant is a jock with rich connections and you’ve a reputation at stake, what would you do? The Hunting Ground suggests that you’d hush the girl up and send her away. You’d explore every conceivable angle with painstaking levels of insurance to ensure none of it gets out. You see, there’s money at stake.
The girls in this talking head documentary are all victims of abuse. We are shown facts and figures beyond all comprehension. No viewer would doubt their sincerity, and for all the evidence on display, there’s an unnerving amount of men who are clearly guilty. What’s more, they are let off and absolutely exonerated for what is blatantly the result of nepotism and self preservation on behalf of the college. They leave behind a great many victims of abuse, who now stand up to fight back. Toward the end of the film we see the result of this, and escape into the credits (en route through the inevitable website/donation pleas) on a more positive note.
Documentary-wise is just how one-sided Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering actually are. What might have had more weight is a somewhat balanced argument. it’s very easy to point the finger, slow down the footage and try to do the utmost damage to the reputation by way of reactionary film making. Yet, sitting through the doc, I felt an unflinching regret that there was no counter-point. As much as universities are, apparently, rape-dens of outstanding blatancy – surely it stands to reason that there are some people out there who align themselves to false accusations? It’s a thought.
One “jock” in particular (and yes, he’s black) cops a fairly hefty wallop in the documentary. In the film’s only semblance of counterbalance, some of his supporters cheer and whoops when no charges are filed. I’m on the side of the victim in *every single instance* – but the film cannot shake that off, and is far too preoccupied acting as a cheerleader (if you’ll forgive the expression) for its own cause.
And so, what we’re left with is a one-sided call to arms. It’s a worthy one-sided call to arms that I’d scarcely summarise as entertainment; some of these stories and cases are absolutely horrendous. But, this is a film review – it’s a film, and it has an agenda. And it’s very adept at reaching its agenda. I don’t want my favourite documentarians to become flag-carrying apostles for good causes anymore than I want my favourite directors or writers to do the same. Don’t cross that dangerous line. I want the old Kirby Dick back, because he was more fun and had a sense of perspective and was – and still could be, once again – breaking new ground in his field.
Author: Andrew Mackay
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