The Hunting Ground
2015, PG-13, 103 min. Directed by Kirby Dick.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 3, 2015
Following up on their 2012 film The Invisible War, which righteously tackled the taboo subject of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell rape culture within the U.S. military, director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering bring the war back home in harrowing detail. The battlefield presented here isn’t within JAG’s jurisdiction but instead places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the American university, college, and fraternity systems, where campus rapes and sexual assaults have been festering for decades. A socially conscious filmmaker with an eye for telling detail and a methodical, muckraking research team that’s probably second only to Ken Burns’ in terms of digging up the past, Dick’s dissection of the endemic nature of collegiate rape culture ranges from Stanford to Harvard to Notre Dame and beyond. This is an emotionally devastating piece of advocacy journalism, as it should be. It should also be mandatory viewing for both college-age teens and their parents.
The sheer amount of unvarnished, on-camera testimony from young women (and a few men), as they recall the very worst moments of their lives during what should be the best years of their lives, is alternately overwhelming and necessary. In interview after interview with campus rape and assault survivors – and make no mistake, some do not survive – the story remains strangely yet unsurprisingly unchanged. We were young, we were away from our parents, we were within the supposedly safe, relatively risk-free environment of academia. And then they were – and are – assaulted, after which their respective institutions failed them utterly and shamefully.
Dick piles on dreadful statistic after statistic: An estimated 100,000 women will be sexually assaulted over the next 12 months. And yet, according to the last year’s records available (2012), some 40% of universities reported no sexual assaults on campus whatsoever. There’s no end to the grim news in The Hunting Ground – the title alludes to the shark-like repeat predators that continue to be re-enrolled after some minor disciplinary action is taken, if any is taken at all. Lest parents run from this film in haste to burn their daughters’ college admission essays, however, Dick focuses on two women who fought back against their frighteningly complacent and complicit colleges and set off a chain reaction of negative publicity for these alumni-donation-driven schools.
University of North Carolina students Andrea Pino and Annie Clark unite and begin a groundswell of agitation that eventually makes the front page of The New York Times, networking with campus rape survivors from seemingly every university in the nation. Dick also interviews a retired campus police officer who fills us in on all the sordid details of why, exactly, colleges are so tight-lipped when it comes to the dangerous confluence of teens, fraternities, and the inevitable alcohol-based social economy that comes with modern, and not-so-modern, collegiate life.
The Hunting Ground is, by its very nature, rough going for the viewer, but how else should it be? “What happens on campus, stays on campus,” one mortarboard-bedecked authority figure opines jovially, early on, but by the end of Dick’s infuriating documentary you want to shove that tassel down his throat and watch him choke on it.