Sundance: 'Lorena' Director on Making Docuseries During the Rise of #MeToo

The docuseries, which counts Jordan Peele as a producer, will screen in the Sundance Film Festival's special events section before bowing on Amazon Prime.

Director Joshua Rofe was only 10 years old when Lorena Bobbitt was a nightly news mainstay. It wasn't until he was an adult and began reading about and researching Bobbitt's story that he came to understand that, in spite of wall-to-wall news coverage of Bobbitt's personal life and public trial, it was as if, as he puts it, "no one heard her."

"You had this young girl — she was 23 years old at the time — who was essentially on CNN every night during her trial when she was testifying, pouring her heart out about how she was beaten, raped and sodomized," says Rofe, the filmmaker behind the docuseries Lorena. "All anyone could think about was the cut-off penis and just how fucking funny that was.”   

Rofe, whose previous doc work tackles the societal response to personal trauma, adds, “The reaction from the world at large was almost more harmful than what had happened to her.” 

For Rofe, his producing partner Steven Berger and their team, the goal of Lorena was to re-contextualize Bobbitt’s story, placing it within the rise of the 24-hour news cycle. The four-episode docuseries, which will screen on Jan. 29 in the Sundance Film Festival's special events section, will debut on Amazon Prime on Feb. 15 and counts Jordan Peele and his Monkeypaw Productions as early backers.

Rofe first met Peele at a screening of his documentary Lost for Life, which tells the story of juvenile murderers serving life in prison without parole, and the two remained in touch. “I had mentioned to him that I was in touch with Lorena and she was on board, and he kept asking questions about it,” remembers Rofe. The Saturday night of Get Out’s opening weekend, when Peele’s directorial debut grossed an unexpected $33 million at the box office, Peele reached out to Rofe and asked to come on board.   

After speaking on the phone at length, Rofe sat down with Bobbitt in December 2017 for a seven-hour interview over the course of several days. A team of researchers, David Holthouse and Katie Le Dain, knocked on doors and approached people at gas stations in Manassas, Virginia, which would ultimately produce the series’ approximately 50 interviews. Four editors, each working on one episode, pieced together Lorena over eight months.   

The series' Amazon premiere comes approximately two years after Rofe first met Bobbitt. Lorena started production in October 2017, which coincided with the New York Times and New Yorker exposes of Harvey Weinstein and the rise of the #MeToo movement, where female trauma was given both a national spotlight and validity.   

“The narrative thread could run from Anita Hill to the Tailhook scandal to Lorena Bobbitt to Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, and so on and so forth,” says Rofe. “It was a wild thing to realize we were making something that was, unfortunately, even more relevant than one would ever want.”