As documentary filmmakers, Amy Ziering and I have waded into difficult territory before. On subjects from how films are rated, to closeted politicians who lobby for anti-gay legislation, to rape in the military, we’ve gone after some of the most powerful people and institutions in this country.
And then we took on campus sexual assault. Nowhere has the pushback been greater and the criticisms more hyperbolic than on this film. In response to a criticism comparing our work to the discredited Rolling Stone article about the University of Virginia, we were asked to clarify our investigation process in this piece and are grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Preparing for The Hunting Ground we spent two years conducting research, speaking with experts, gathering stories and thoroughly vetting every case in our film. Our producers and I spoke with more than 500 sources and interviewed more than nearly 150 people on camera.
The final film, The Hunting Ground, is an expose of the problems survivors face after being sexually assaulted on a college campus, and the pervasive institutional cover up of those crimes. Victim blaming by administration officials, shoddy investigations, and inconsistent adjudication policies have long led women and men to vastly underreport these crimes because they fear that they themselves will be doubted and penalized. Sadly, these victims’ fears are not misplaced. Research shows that universities have done an abysmal job of handling reported cases of sexual assault.
The film has been released theatrically to great reviews and has since been screened nearly a thousand times at high schools, colleges and universities. It has been supported by the White House and their It’s On Us campaign, state legislatures and dozens of organizations across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world including college presidents, school administrators, faculty, research scientists, police officers, prosecutors, parents, students and survivors have championed the film.
And now, on the eve of its airing on CNN on November 22, President John Thrasher of Florida State University, a school with a very serious problem of sexual assault, has compared our film to the discredited article in Rolling Stone magazine.
Unlike Rolling Stone, not a single case that we featured in the film has been discredited as being untrue. We have rebutted every concern that has been lobbed at us on our website. In spite of all the attacks, no school has asked for a single specific retraction or change in the film. That’s because there is nothing to retract — it’s completely accurate.
One of the key differences between The Hunting Ground and Rolling Stone’s investigation — in addition to our thousands of pages of documentation — is that we identified, by name and on camera, all the female victims and you hear from them directly as they describe their experiences. They are not anonymous as “Jackie” was in the Rolling Stones piece. We also reached out to all the assailants of our main subjects in the film for comment. Finally, The Hunting Ground was vetted by dozens of producers, journalists and attorneys, and we stand by every one of our survivors’ stories.
Documentary films that take on difficult subjects are often attacked by the powerful institutions they expose. It’s not surprising that these powerful schools and individuals, who are not used to being criticized, are coming after the film so aggressively. It means we’ve touched a nerve, and are shining a light on something they don’t want seen. It’s what documentary films can do better than any other medium and why we are proud to have taken on this difficult subject.