As a companion piece to The Invisible War, his documentary on sexual abuse in the military, filmmaker Kirby Dick uses The Hunting Ground to take on the incendiary topic of rape on campus. He also addresses the systemic reasons that colleges and universities often fail to act, even when rape victims come forward looking and often begging for justice. Dick doesn’t get fancy or show-offy in technique, preferring instead to marshal the facts of this rape epidemic to which outrage seems to be the only sane reaction. The film begins with a montage of students screaming with joy as they receive notice of acceptance at their favored colleges. It’s all good news, which is the way institutions of higher learning like to keep it. Rape statistics are bad advertising for enrollment, even worse as incentives for alumni donations, educational grants and funding sports programs.
This conspiracy of silence is at the core of The Hunting Ground. Few of the accused step forward to defend themselves on camera. Why should they? The system, especially for athletes, is weighted heavily in their favor. It’s the rape survivors, women and some men, who tell their wrenching stories direct to camera. Andrea Pino and Annie Clark recount their own assaults, but rally to form an organization of student activists who learn how to file civil complaints when schools turn their backs. Florida State University’s Erica Kinsman relates her allegations against Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, which created a firestorm of controversy and blame-the-victim rhetoric. As the cases mount and institutional reps succeed best by playing dumb, The Hunting Ground becomes a energizing call to action, a potent provocation that’s been too long coming.