A documentary seeking to raise awareness regarding the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, garnering rave reviews from critics and activist groups alike.
Directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering, "The Hunting Ground" argues that most college campus fail to report acts of sexual assault because they don't want to tarnish their name and risk losing prospective students--especially fraternity and student athletes.
To create the film, Dick and Ziering not only talked to students willing to speak about their experiences, but administrators, parents and even a former police officer at Notre Dame who revealed how the school turned its back on rape cases, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Dispersed between scenes are horrifying statistics, such as the fact that 20 percent of college women are sexually assaulted on college campuses in the United States in a year. However, only a small fraction of the attackers ever face any kind of disciplinary action.
"This is a problem at schools all across the country," Dick told viewers ahead of the screening at Marc Theatre.
Ziering added that she and Dick decided to make the film after a screening for their previous documentary, "The Invisible War," about sexual assault in the U.S. military, on college campuses.
"I would hear from women at every campus telling me, 'You know this happened here,' she explained.
The documentary, which will be released by Radius/TWC in theaters on March 20 and on CNN later this year, has received rave reviews from critics and activists for victims of sexual assault alike.
Daily Beast film critic Marlow Stern called the documentary "comprehensive and compelling," adding that it received a standing ovation from viewers following its premiere.
Leslie Felperin of the Hollywood Reporter also showered praise on the film, writing, "All the numerous young women and men who come forward here to speak about their ordeals are worthy of immense respect and regard, but what is especially impressive about the film is that it doesn't settle for being a mere catalog of crimes. In the latter half especially, focus broadens to explore the aggressive, macho culture that permeates party life on campuses across the country and draws a map of how Greek fraternities, who so generously endow schools through fundraising efforts, form and sustain that culture."
Anti-rape activist and New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who makes an appearance in the documentary, said she hopes "Hunting Ground" will help hold schools accountable in reporting rapes that occur on their campuses.
"This is an issue that campuses are struggling with across the whole country," she told Vulture. "If you listen to the survivors, this is an issue that hasn't gone away. There is enormous prevalence. And survivors have a right to be heard and to be able to tell their stories and to be able to get justice and to have a reform in the system so that the incentives aren't to shove this under the rug. Schools [currently] have no incentive to report these incidents of sexual assault and rape."
Erica Webber, a psychology nurse who has worked closely with victims of sexual assault, told the Gospel Herald that she hopes the film will encourage those who have experienced rape to know they're not alone and find the courage to share their experience and seek help
"Rape is a very degrading, horrible thing, and it's very difficult for many survivors to talk about," she said. "My hope is that through this film, victims will understand that they're not alone--and there's nothing to be ashamed about. There are so many wonderful organizations ready to help those struggling through these kinds of issues and help them understand that God loves them."