'Bleeding Edge' Doc Makers Take on Medical-Device Industry: "You're a Guinea Pig and Just Don't Know It"

Filmmaking team Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering examine how the $400 billion industry puts patients at risk in their latest investigation.

Writer-director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, who have joined forces on such influential documentaries as 2012's The Invisible War and 2015's The Hunting Ground, which exposed rape culture in the U.S. military and on college campuses, respectively, have turned to a new target, the $400 billion medical device industry. In The Bleeding Edge, airing on Netflix, they investigate how lax regulation and profit-driven corporations put patients at risk, documenting both the gruesome complications that some have suffered and the activists working to change the system.

Why this film now?

AMY ZIERING Typically, we try to look for things that no one is aware of. We try to break stories rather than follow news from the past. We had heard from one person who didn't want to be in the film — a story that was horrific about the regulatory Catch-22s, which sounded insane, and so we started doing research.

KIRBY DICK What was the most surprising is that for most devices, including medium- and high-risk devices implanted in humans, testing isn't required in humans first. That greenlit the film for us, if you will. It even came as a shock to many, many doctors in the medical industry.

ZIERING The title of the film could have been Guinea Pig — you're the guinea pig and just don't know it.

Several of the devices in the film, including the Essure birth-control device, are products for women. Are women's complaints not taken as seriously as men's when these things go bad?

ZIERING There could be a whole film made on gender bias in the health care industry. Obviously, everyone's at risk when devices are poorly regulated, but women are at greater risk because they are more often disbelieved when they see their doctors. And often they have also internalized the misogyny and don't have the confidence to make sure their reporting is heard, likewise for people of color and those of lower economic status.

You've gone up against the military and elite colleges in the past, and some change has taken place. How does the medical industry compare?

DICK At least the military has some oversight by the federal government. These huge, huge corporations, they pretty much can do whatever they want. They have so much influence in Congress. We never experienced the level of fear — we saw people who, off the record, would tell us horror stories, but then didn't want to get in front of the camera at all — as we did making this film.

This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.