- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have teamed up on some of the most acclaimed and impactful documentary projects of the 21st century. While Dick’s first Oscar nom came for a doc he made apart from Ziering, 2004’s Twist of Faith, which explored sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, they have experienced their greatest successes on collaborations that also tackled subjects related to sexual misconduct: 2012’s The Invisible War, for which they were Oscar-nominated and won a Peabody Award, shined a light on sexual assault in the military; 2015’s The Hunting Ground, for which they received the Producers Guild’s Stanley Kramer Award, exposed the epidemic of rape on college campuses; 2020’s On the Record looked at numerous allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of hip hop mogul Russell Simmons; and Allen v. Farrow, a four-part HBO docuseries that dropped last spring, examines allegations of sexual abuse made by Dylan Farrow against her father, Woody Allen.
Over the course of our conversation, the 68-year-old and 58-year-old — who have received Primetime Emmy noms for writing, directing and producing Allen v. Farrow — reflected on their very different journeys to filmmaking; how they first crossed paths and began working together; how sexual misconduct became a running theme of their work; what they would have asked Allen if he had agreed to be interviewed; and much more.
* * *
You can listen to the episode here. Highlights — lightly edited for clarity/brevity — appear lower on the page.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Jennifer Lawrence, Snoop Dogg, Julia Roberts, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Kevin Hart, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Cate Blanchett, Jimmy Fallon, Renee Zellweger, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Kerry Washington, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Keira Knightley, David Letterman, Sophia Loren, Hugh Jackman, Melissa McCarthy, Ken Burns, Jodie Foster, Conan O’Brien, Amy Adams, Ben Affleck, Zendaya, Will Ferrell, Glenn Close, Michael B. Jordan, Jessica Chastain, Jay Leno, Saoirse Ronan, Billy Porter, Brie Larson, Kevin Feige and Tina Fey.
* * *
Amy, something happened when you were 15 that shaped the rest of your life to this point.
Ziering: My dad was a Holocaust survivor, but nothing about the Holocaust was ever discussed. Then, when I was 15, I came home from high school and there was, on my bed, a manila binder. I opened it and it was a play that my dad had written. It was called If I Were God. It was about little boys watching their moms in selection line, peeking through the curtain of their barrack and just talking: “Is it going to be her today?” It was obviously his experience that he was trying to share, and I went to him and said, “This is incredible. I’m so sad. Thank you for sharing it. Why haven’t you ever shared this before?” And he said, “When we got out of the camps, I wanted to tell people. And when I did, they were like, ‘I can’t hear this. I can’t believe it. It’s too horrible.’ So I just stopped.” Years later, I was doing an interview in Australia, and some woman said, “Why do you do what you do? Why do you care so much about trauma?” And I said, “I don’t know, why do dancers dance?” And then I thought about the play and I realized, “Oh. Maybe it’s about my desire to allow people who feel they can’t speak to have a platform. Maybe this is what I was put here to do, to allow testimony to be heard.”
Amy studied with the philosopher Jacques Derrida and convinced him to let her make a documentary about him. While she was working on it, a friend invited her to join her at a work-in-progress screening of Kirby’s second doc feature, Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Super Masochist, which was ultimately released in 1997. Take the story from there.
Ziering: I come out of the screening, mind blown, go up to Kirby, and say, “This was great.” Gave him my notes. He, of course, blew them off — some things never change. (Laughs.) And I said, “I’m working on this film about Derrida.” You have to understand, that could pretty much clear a room — if you said that to anyone in L.A., it was like you were a Martian, no one had heard of him or could care less. But Kirby said, “Oh my God, I love his work. I’ve read him.” And he offered his help.
You guys co-directed Derrida, which was released in 2002 and was well received, and then you sort of went your separate ways for a few years, right?
Dick: Well, I was working with another producer, Eddie Schmidt, at the same time I was making Derrida. I made another film called Chain Camera; then Twist of Faith, which was about clergy sexual abuse; and then This Film Is Not Yet Rated, about the MPA rating system. And then Eddie decided he wanted to go off on his own and make things that were more comedic. That was not my orientation.
At that point, you guys reteamed for Outrage, which focused on homophobic politicians who were actually gay, and The Invisible War.
Ziering: What was so interesting to me about Outrage was Kirby was like, “I want this not to just bear witness to these people doing this shitty thing. I want us to engage in it so we’re implicated.” So we actually outed Gov. [Charlie] Crist in our film, and talked about the complicated ethics of that.
Dick: For Outrage, I did most of the interviews, but I could see how good Amy was at interviewing, so she has done them ever since. I think The Invisible War interviews are as good as it gets in American documentary. She is very empathic and shares the pain as these people are sharing their pain, which allows them to open up more, because really, in many ways, what they’re looking for, first and foremost, and have never gotten, is somebody to say, “I’m here with you in this. You’re not alone.”
Kirby had dealt with sexual abuse in Twist of Faith, but in terms of your collaborations, The Invisible War was the first to tackle that. Today, lots of people are talking about sexual abuse, but back then there was so little interest, you ended up having to finance the film yourselves, right?
Ziering: A hundred percent. Kirby had been nominated for an Oscar. Outrage was on HBO. We had a fairly successful track record as documentarians. But we could not get a penny. We were told, “No one wants to hear women’s stories. No one wants stories about rape. And no one certainly wants stories about women raped in the military.” That’s a direct quote from a very prominent distributor.
The Invisible War indirectly led to your next doc, The Hunting Ground, right?
Dick: We started to show The Invisible War on college campuses almost immediately, and then, over the next six to nine months, we began getting emails, letters and calls that this was happening on college campuses, too. At that point, we were like, “We don’t want to make another film about sexual assault. We don’t want to get categorized.” But we just kept getting this, so we said, “OK, we have to look into it.” I remember thinking at the time, “It can’t be as bad as in the military.” But it was.
Ziering: Those films bear witness to the power of testimony, because it was students watching The Invisible War who said, “Oh, maybe I can speak, too.” I don’t know how many times I asked people, “Why are you talking to us?” And the answer was, “I saw The Invisible War.”
When Harvey Weinstein was exposed and #MeToo broke out in 2017, you two had already been exploring the possibility of a film about sexual assault in Hollywood …
Ziering: We had rented a house in Brooklyn and did five interviews a day with random women who had spoken out post-#MeToo. One of those women was Drew Dixon, and one of those women was Dylan Farrow. Drew led to On the Record and Dylan led to Allen v. Farrow. That’s exemplary of how, I always say, our films find us, we don’t find them.
Was the appeal of On the Record that you could follow a subject as she is debating whether to go public with allegations of sexual assault?
Dick: Absolutely. It was. When we encountered Drew, who was going through this process, we felt, “This is a different way to tell the story.” Then we continued to follow her afterward, too, because obviously this changes people’s lives.
Allen v. Farrow is, for both of you, your first docuseries. Why did you choose to work in that format now?
Dick: Well, obviously that format has really risen and has, I think in many ways, overtaken documentary features. So we wanted to try to work in the format, certainly, and we thought this was the perfect material to do it with because the story was so complex and it spun off so many other issues. We just did not think that 90 minutes or 120 minutes was going to be able to contain it.
Ziering: We wanted to go into the artist. We wanted to go into grooming. We wanted to go into incest. We wanted to go into family courts. We wanted to go into celebrity impunity and PR complicity. There’s just too much.
I understand that your partner on this docuseries was someone named Amy Herdy.
DicK: Amy Herdy is a journalist, and she was a producer on The Hunting Ground and another film we made, The Bleeding Edge. She is, in my opinion, one of the best journalists in the field of sexual assault in the country. And that has really allowed us to get deeper into these stories than I think we could have just as filmmakers. When she heard Dylan’s story and started looking into it, she said, “There is so much here. I can get into this.” No one else had. She was just confident — “Just give me time” — and sure enough, she kept going deeper and deeper and deeper. And that allowed us to really tell the complete story.
Ziering: She ended up being our co-creator on Allen v. Farrow. She’s a tour de force investigator.
You ended up securing the participation of Dylan Farrow, Mia Farrow and other key players who have not spoken about this for years. They let you use the video of Dylan at age 7, Mia’s home footage, etc. Just incredibly powerful stuff. The key people who did not participate were Woody Allen, Soon-Yi Previn and Moses Farrow, though Woody’s perspective is presented through excerpts from his audiobook. But if Woody had agreed to take one question from you guys, what would you have most wanted to ask him?
Dick: I would want to ask him to describe, in a very detailed way, what he was doing for that key 30-minute period, because he has given multiple answers that have conflicted. The police who investigated noted that there were problems in his response, and he has evaded answering that again and again. I don’t know if he would have an answer.
Ziering: It would be an interesting conversation. And I do want to say that the offer is still on the table. I’m happy to talk to him any time under any conditions.
In a 1992 60 Minutes interview, Woody said, “I’m 57. Isn’t it illogical that I’m going to, at the height of a very bitter, acrimonious custody fight, drive up to Connecticut, where nobody likes me — I’m in a house full of enemies, I mean, Mia was so enraged at me, and she had gotten all of the kids to be angry at me — that I’m going to drive up there and suddenly, on visitation, pick this moment in my life to become a child molester?” Your response?
Ziering: I interviewed an expert and asked, “People who are accused — what’s their typical response if they didn’t do it?” They say they didn’t do it. They don’t pivot. They don’t ask a rhetorical question in return. The expert said, “That’s incredibly interesting and unique.” Another expert told me, “You know what a father says to me if they’re falsely accused? They say, ‘Oh my God, why did my daughter say this? How can I help her? Who did this to her? What should we do?’”
Dick: An expert told us that there are people who in a family only assault one child because that protects them, right? They can say, “None of the other children ever told that story, this never happened.” And we also learned that people often assault when they are under stress.
What are your thoughts on the debate about separating art from artists? Can we do it? Should we do it? Can you still watch a Woody Allen movie?
Dick: I can, yes. Obviously he has an extremely impressive body of work. He’s never been my favorite filmmaker, but, in some ways, I feel like having done this, you see things that you wouldn’t otherwise see. And I think it’s very instructive in that way.
Ziering: I could. Would I? Probably not, but not out of umbrage. I’ve just got better things to do with my time. But Western culture is littered with horrible people doing incredibly amazing things. Like, I wouldn’t be here talking to you about Derrida and deconstruction without Heidegger, and the guy was a fucking Nazi.
Does any part of you ever worry, “What if I’m wrong?” In this case, that something comes out one day that somehow exonerates Woody Allen?
Dick: Oh, yeah. I mean, that occurs to us all the way through making all of our projects. We don’t want to accuse someone of something where the evidence doesn’t overwhelmingly implicate him or her.
Ziering: Oh God, yeah. It’s terrifying. It really is. You have to be very careful, and we are. And thank God, so far, we have not had to make one fact retraction.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day