Wednesday, February 25, 2015

THE HUNTING GROUND: Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering tackle rape again, this time via higher learning

Just as this twosome did three years back in The Invisible War, their exploration of rape in the U.S. military, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have now done for rape on the college and university campus, and what they tell us in their new film is -- if this is possible (and, yes, it is) -- even more appalling and disgusting than what we learned in the earlier documentary. It is bad enough that so many men, along with their enabling male pals, find it just-business-as-usual to rape women. But in THE HUNTING GROUND, we learn what our higher education system doesn't do about all this, especially when sports come into the picture. All this proves quite enough to make us wonder if maybe the treatment of women by Muslim fundamentalists and Sharia Law aren't so bad, after all.

The shoddy, sleazy behavior of so many of our educational institutions in blaming the victims and/or sweeping it all under the carpet is simply astounding, and the filmmakers back up the statistics they shows us by citing the various studies from which they came. As with the earlier doc about military rape, Dick and Ziering (above, left and right, respectively) point out that young men are also affected by rape on campus but that the primary victims are women.

The movie begins with those video-ed marketing and home movie moments in which schools promise the world to their new students, and the kids get ready for what they imagine will be their most wonderful experience. Then, as we hear the stories and as the filmmakers speak with one victim after another (most still alive, others not), and learn the reactions -- short- and long-term (note how many of the young women seem to have put on extra weight, post-attack -- the picture of male entitlement, patriarchy, power, and money buying silence comes slowly and horribly to the fore. Women remain, as so often, second-class citizens.

Some of the more moving moments come as the victims explain why their most difficult time entailed telling their parents about what happened. Fraternities of course come under the microscope, with ugly results. "Fraternities are essentially 'unregulated bars'," notes one fellow (shown below), and we hear a favorite frat-boy chant: "No means yes, and yes means anal." Wow. Can't wait till my grand-daughter gets into one of these bastions of higher learning.

Kirby and Ziering talk with a fellow now retired from the Notre Dame Campus Police, and what he has to tell us is pretty awful in terms of how the campus police are hog-tied by the university. Even worse -- but perhaps the crowning achievement of the documentary -- concerns the football star Jameis Winston (below, left), Florida State University, the Tallahassee Police Department and the untold horror and hypocrisy that can happen when your rapist is a guy who can help win football games. If this section of the film doesn't raise your blood pressure to new heights, I'll be surprised.

A lot of schools come in for a licking but the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill probably takes the cake. So much is so wrong with how higher education handles rape that you can't help but understand why the filmmakers maybe spend a bit too much time on their happier, rah-rah finish. Some of their organization, too, seems a little haphazard. But Dick and Ziering turn over so much ground so thoroughly that you'll forgive them the occasional fumble.

The Hunting Ground, from Radius/TWC and running a relatively swift 104 minutes, opens this Friday, February 27, in Los Angeles at The Landmark and in New York City at the Angelika Film Center, with other cities soon to join the ranks. To see all currently scheduled playdates, click here.   

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