“The Hunting Ground,” a documentary shocker about rape on American college campuses, goes right for the gut.
A blunt instrument of a movie, it derives its power largely from the many young women and some men recounting on camera how they were raped at their schools and then subsequently denied justice by those same schools.
Their stories – delivered in sorrow and rage, with misting eyes and squared jaws – make this imperfect movie a must-watch work of cine-activism, one that should be seen by anyone headed to college and by those already on campus.
The movie arrives in the midst of a vigorous furious and at times crudely simplistic national discussion about sexual assault. Fueling that discussion is the Obama administration, which has made the issue a priority. In 2014, the White House released guidelines on how campus rapes are to be treated. In a move that continues to make waves, it also released the names of 55 schools – from Harvard College to the University of California, Berkeley – that were under investigation by the Department of Education for their handling of rape accusations. At issue is whether they violated federal laws under Title IX, which bans gender discrimination at colleges receiving federal money.
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In “The Hunting Ground,” writer-director Kirby Dick, working with producer Amy Ziering, crams a crowd of faces and one seemingly unwieldy subject into a painful and absorbing, if periodically cluttered, 103-minute documentary. (The filmmaking pair previously collaborated on the documentaries “Outrage,” about homophobia among American political elites, and “The Invisible War,” about sexual assault in the U.S. military.)
Subscribing to the more-is-more school of documentary, the director pulls out all of the stops in this movie, using talking-head interviews, vérité-like scenes, seemingly generic archival imagery, seemingly nongeneric archival imagery and numerous graphics, including some footnote-like citations. Visually the movie is somewhat of a mess, and although that can be frustrating, it does reflect, wittingly or not, the cacophony defining the current discourse on rape.
“The Hunting Ground” belongs to a long tradition of documentary advocacy cinema; it isn’t straight journalism, but there are instances when it could benefit from a more conventional approach. That becomes evident when Dick focuses on an image of Michael Gottfredson, president of the University of Oregon from 2012 to 2014, and some text reading: “Allowed two basketball players accused of involvement in a gang rape to play in the NCAA tournament. Both players were expelled after the tournament.”
Dick doesn’t name the athletes or follow up with school officials. This leaves you guessing whether these are the same athletes named in a Title IX lawsuit filed last month by a female student against the university and Dana Altman, a coach, for their handling of her reported rape by three school basketball players. On Feb. 9, the university and Altman filed a countersuit against the female student.
Among the featured interviewees are Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, who say they became acquainted after Pino was raped in 2012 while enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Pino reached out to Clark, who said that, she too, had been raped at the school. The two became allies and friends, and in 2013 they filed a Title IX complaint against the university with the Department of Education.
Pino and Clark are courageous, inspiring figures, and they, along with the other women and men who talk openly about their school histories and ordeals, are the reasons to see “The Hunting Ground.”
The Hunting Ground
Director: Kirby Dick
Rated PG-13 (Stories about violent sexual assault)