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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Background reading for "Movie Night"

Yesterday the AALS made the following announcement about an event at its upcoming annual meeting:

The AALS Law and Film Series presents feature and documentary films chosen for their cinematic and legal value, identifying film resources for possible classroom instructional purposes, as well as for raising general awareness of law and film. For each of the two nights of film showings, we will present films chosen by the AALS Annual Meeting Film Advisory Committee. There will be brief discussions and commentary in connection with the films. . . .

Friday, January 8, 7:30 pm

The Hunting Ground is a 2015 documentary film about the epidemic of rape on American college campuses. The film follows several survivors of sexual assault as they encounter retaliation and pushback at every level of campus life. It details the lack of effective institutional response as the students discuss the failure of college administrators to support them and the toll reporting these crimes took on their lives. The film reunites writer and director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, the team behind the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War. Join moderator Professor Jessica Silbey for a discussion after the film with Director Kirby Dick.   

Speaker: Mr. Kirby Dick, Chain Camera Pictures Inc. 

Moderator: Jessica Silbey, Northeastern University School of Law

I have not seen The Hunting Ground and cannot comment on its merits. It seems worth noting, though, both that the movie is prominently features a case involving Harvard Law School, and that a number of professors at the law school issued a public letter criticizing both the film and its treatment of that incident. They charge in the letter that the documentary "provides a seriously false picture both of the general sexual assault phenomenon at universities" and of the student accused in that specific incident and the process in that case. The Times article also links to this critique of the film, and specifically its treatment of that case, by Emily Yoffe in Slate. 

None of this, of course, is meant to question or even to comment on the very serious issue of campus sexual assault, which has been a concern of mine at my home institution. I assume that critiques of the film, and open-ended discussions about how to address the larger issue, will be very much a part of the moderated discussion and that this has always been the AALS's intention. The filmmakers have a response to the professors' letter here and a response to Yoffe's piece here. They are more detailed, certainly, than the responses provided by the filmmakers in the Times story and in Yoffe's piece itself, or here, all of which are heated but weak.

Given that one of the filmmakers will be present for the screening and discussion, I assume those points will be fully aired. At the same time, given that Dick describes himself as "both an activist and a filmmaker" (a common feature of many current documentaries and one that raises important concerns, particularly for those of us with more conventional views on journalism), and that one of the film's producers wrote to the attorney/relative of a potential interview subject, "We don’t operate the same way as journalists — this is a film project very much in the corner of advocacy for victims, so there would be no insensitive questions or the need to get the perpetrator’s side," I thought that people thinking of attending the screening might want to be aware of these criticisms, and better able to explore them during the discussion.  

 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on December 2, 2015 at 10:37 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

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