‘The Hunting Ground’
Directors: Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering
3 (out of 5) Globes
Subtlety is not the way to effect meaningful change, and few filmmakers know this like Kirby Dick. Once the maker of eccentric documentary profiles — like 1997’s “Sick,” about a performance artist with cystic fibrosis who publically pounded nails into his penis for entertainment — he has, in the last decade, rebranded himself as a take-no-prisoners muckraker, cranking out crudely effective salvos about Catholic Church abuse (“Twist of Faith”), the MPAA (“This Film is Not Yet Rated”) and closeted Republican politicians (“Outrage”). “The Hunting Ground,” co-directed, like some of his films, by Amy Ziering, is his second film in a row on rape, following “The Invisible War,” about abuse in the military. Its subject is college campus rape, and it too doesn’t mince words: it portrays it as an endemic, systemic problem, with some universities allegedly not reporting numbers so as to save face and/or to protect valuable students (read: athletes).
Could this subject bear more nuanced reporting than it gets? That’s not even in doubt. “The Hunting Ground” throws out statistics — some quite old — and one horrific story after another, then announces those being charged (university heads, the accused) denied participation in the film. One case — accusations surrounding budding football god Jameis Winston — has not even been settled yet, and yet here it is. (On the other hand, the film was locked before the fury exploded over Rolling Stone’s notorious “Rape on Campus” article, though the subject of whether false claims, like this and the Duke lacrosse case, subtract credibility from the subject is addressed anyway, with the revelation that over 90 percent of rape claims are proven correct.)
The absence of the accused hardly means they’re in the right, but “The Hunting Ground” feels very much like a wielded hammer, intending just to drag your attention towards a highly important cause. That doesn’t make it any less important. Movies — even docs that, like this one, will wind up on CNN after their theatrical run — still have greater stature in the public consciousness, and a blunt weapon used for a just cause is what that cause needs.
That’s not to say “The Hunting Ground” is all alarmism and hysteria all the time. In fact, it can be quite calm and moving, and in only moderately manipulative ways. (Dick is rarely subtle, but he’s never cartoonish.) It gives time to each alleged victim, which is more than many get from the powers that be, who tend to be strident, accusatory and sometimes indifferent. (It’s distressing to think the old trend of police officers acting hostile towards those reporting rape has not improved in decades.) And it does offer one positive solution: It zeroes in on people who’ve formed support groups that link not only those who’ve been abused on the same campus, but across the country. They seek to not only form communities but increase awareness and seek real change, while providing a positive bubble for those sometimes left to fight on their own. “The Hunting Ground” didn’t have to do much more than wrangle attention towards an important issue, but it does slightly more than that.