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When Allen v. Farrow released earlier this year on HBO, the four-part docuseries — which was filmed in secret over three years — revealed new evidence, including several bombshells, about the allegations of incest that have been famously leveled against filmmaker Woody Allen since the 1990s. By its conclusion, the intimate yet sprawling documentary became a powerful platform for Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adoptive daughter, to share her story.
For filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, and lead investigative producer Amy Herdy — who virtually gathered for a recent Q&A for THR Presents, powered by Vision Media — booking their starring subject to not only go on the record but to speak in-depth about her sexual assault claims against Allen required the Jane Doe Films team to win Dylan’s respect and trust. Then, it took nearly one year to convince Dylan’s mother, actress Mia Farrow, to speak with the filmmakers, and nearly two years to convince Dylan’s brother, journalist Ronan Farrow, to do an interview. “The thing that really got their attention and that convinced them is that we were doing such a thorough investigation,” says Herdy of the courtship.
The project has since sparked a healing process in the Farrow family. “[Dylan has] been pretty public in saying that [Allen v. Farrow] changed the conversation in her family. That her family for the first time, including Dylan’s relationship with her mother, has become closer and to a point where they can discuss this painful, painful episode in their lives,” says Herdy.
Dylan first alleged in 1992 that Allen sexually assaulted her when she was 7 years old. She later detailed her claim in a 2014 column in The New York Times, but it was an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in 2017 amid the #MeToo movement that would ultimately bring her side of a highly documented story to the forefront, and push the once-revered filmmaker into Hollywood’s rearview mirror. (Allen denies ever having been sexually inappropriate or abusive and released a statement after the docuseries’ premiere.)
“This is a story that people thought they knew,” says Ziering of the co-directors’ approach, which was to start small and then grow larger in scope. Dick adds, “It was such an epic story; it had taken place over 30 years. There was a narrative out there that had been constructed by Woody Allen that we had to examine. And also, this was an intimate family story, a very traumatic story for many people. We had to examine it from the most personal to national issues — all together.”
Ziering, in fact, wanted the series to release all at once. But HBO felt that a weekly rollout was the right move. “I wanted people to understand the whole story and the arguments, but in the long run, it was actually wonderful that it came out weekly because you did see people thinking about it and talking about it,” she says of the release on HBO in February (the series is now streaming in full on HBO Max). “That kind of thing is rare these days and makes for a cultural moment and the kind of social impact that we three all enjoy doing with our projects.”
Each episode focuses on a different element of the story, and that includes dissecting the too-little-discussed topics around incest and grooming by parents, especially a parent who is well-known, as well as discrediting the theory of “parental alienation syndrome,” which Allen used as his defense.
The biggest behind-the-scenes discussion, however, revolved around whether they should include the never-before-seen videos of Dylan, at age 7, recounting the abuse on camera to Mia. Herdy says the footage, which Dylan entrusted to the filmmakers over time, could have been used as evidence in the criminal case against Allen, of which the charges were never brought.
“That videotape is considered ‘outcry,'” Herdy says of the legal term that describes the first time a young person tells someone else that they’ve been sexually assaulted. “So, that videotape was Dylan’s outcry to her mother that she had been molested by her father.”
Dick adds of the delicate process to include it in the film, “It’s so powerful, it’s so intimate. Cinematically, we thought it was very important to show. Incest is really not understood, and we thought showing this would help audiences to understand how a 7-year-old speaks about this.”
The footage appears in the second and third installments of Allen v. Farrow. “It was a huge discussion and consideration for a very long time of whether to use the tape or not,” says Ziering. “We only used it once Dylan agreed — it was up to her; she had ownership of the tape. We knew it existed. We asked her if we could just watch it for research purposes. And when we watched it and were kind of horrified and mesmerized and thought, as Amy said, this is actually substantial evidence, we went back to her and she said she’d think about [letting us use the footage in the film].”
Once Dylan approved the use of the videos, the filmmakers tested the footage with the editors “to see what portions we could use that were appropriate, that were objective and gave information, and were not in any way sensational or exploitative,” Ziering adds. “What’s been so incredible was to hear [from survivors] saying that the tape was helpful, illuminating; survivors said they identified with Dylan and finally felt heard and seen.”
The trio says legislatures in more than one state have contacted them to use the series to inform family law judges and police officers on how to interview children about sexual abuse and to educate judges about grooming.
“Incest hasn’t really had its #MeToo moment yet. We have a long way to go on that,” says Dick. “So many survivors have written in [about] how they saw their story in Dylan’s story, and how much it meant for them to see that. And likewise, therapists and professionals who deal with incest. [Incest] is so secretive, people don’t talk about it. So to have this story out there publicly really helps to address the issue.”
After the finale of the docuseries, the Allen v. Farrow team put out a standing offer to interview Allen, as requests for comment from the director went unanswered throughout the process. A potential fifth episode, Ziering says, would be predicated on whether people want to come forward and speak who they haven’t yet heard from, like Allen. In the meantime, the filmmakers offer new interviews in the Allen v. Farrow companion podcast.
Though they have yet to hear back from Allen, their offer remains. “It’s still on the table. We’re not holding our breath, but we’re here and it still stands. We have a lot of questions and are very happy to give him new airtime,” says Ziering.
But even if Allen never responds, says Ziering, “Not only do you fully hear his side in our series — you hear it in his book, in his own voice in reading his book; you hear it in his press conferences [and] press appearances — we’ve also pretty much only heard the story from his side and his voice for the last 30 years. This is the first time Mia ever spoke on camera. So, for those that think we haven’t really heard from Woody, think again. You have. We all have. And this is the first time you might be hearing the full story.”
This edition of THR Presents is brought to you by HBO.
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