“The Hunting Ground” discusses sexual assault at colleges

by Annie Smith | 4/19/15 6:05pm

“I think that we are honor bound to play this film,” manager of the Hopkins Center’s film program Sydney Stowe, said. “The minute we heard the film was out and released we went for it.”

Stowe is referring to “The Hunting Ground” (2015), a new documentary by director Kirby Dick, which was screened at the Hopkins Center for the Arts this past Saturday night in a mostly packed Spaulding Auditorium.

“The Hunting Ground” — which is composed of various interviews with students, administrators and sexual assault experts — follows the story of Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two women who have been at the heart of the recent movement against sexual assault on college campuses.

Clark and Pino, who were both sexually assaulted while attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , joined forces in 2013 to file a Tile IX complaint against the school. While Title IX had historically been used in the athletic setting to secure equal funding for women’s sports teams, Clark and Pino saw that the law could go further — failing to protect students from sexual violence and inadequately dealing with survivors’ needs could be considered sex-based discrimination. Title IX, which passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, protects students from sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

After their complaint, Clark and Pino began to travel to colleges and universities all across the country, informing students on how they could use Title IX to combat sexual assault and connecting activists on different campuses to help one another. Working with other activists had special meaning for both of the women.

“It’s the only way I get up in the morning,” Pino said in the film. “I would have given anything to have someone who believed me — someone who supported me.”

Their campaign against sexual assault caught the attention of “The Hunting Ground” director, who said that he thought that this would be an interesting story arc for a film.

Dick said that the idea to explore sexual assault on college campuses through film emerged from the response to his Academy-Award winning documentary “The Invisible War” (2012), which explored sexual assault in the military.

“As we were taking this film around college campuses, during the Q and As after the screening, the discussion would change very quickly from rape in the military to rape on college campuses,” Dick said.

Survivors of sexual assault began to contact Dick, imploring him to make a documentary exposing the widespread problem of rape on college campuses, he said.

“The Hunting Ground” features interviews with students from numerous institutions, including Swarthmore College, Tufts University, Yale University and Harvard Law School.

“We were following stories on dozens of campuses,” Dick said. “We were very fortunate to be able to document the rise of this student movement while it was happening.”

Many students who were interviewed shared the ways in which their school’s administrators failed to support them after they were sexually assaulted. The culture of victim blaming was explored at length in the film. Administrators, faculty members and experts were also interviewed and emphasized the national scope of the problem.

“This is a problem on all college campuses, and we wanted to convey that,” Dick said.

“The Hunting Ground” combines personal narratives with statistics, effectively humanizing the issue while also exposing its national scope and importance. The film also includes a strong educational component.

“I wanted the film to drastically alter a lot of preconceived notions about sexual assault and the way it works on college campuses,” Clark said. “I want survivors to know that they are not alone, it’s not their fault and they are believed.”

Lily Morrison ’16, who interned at Picture Motion, the marketing firm that represents “The Hunting Ground,” said that she sees the film as an important medium for raising awareness among a broad audience.

“Films have so much power,” Morrison said. “With ‘The Hunting Ground,’ it has united so many people across the nation who may not have cared much about the issue. When a movie comes out, it can speak volumes.”

Throughout the film’s screening, audience members showed a range of reactions, from laughter when former interim College president Carol Folt was on screen to gasps when the statistic that 45 percent of colleges reported no incidents of sexual assault in 2012.

After the film, there was a panel discussion and question-and-answer session featuring Clark and Pino, as well as Mentors Against Violence education director Murylo Batista ’15 and Dartmouth Film Society director Johanna Evans ’10. Dartmouth’s Title IX coordinator, Heather Lindkvist, moderated the panel discussion.

Audience question topics ranged from how the College is treating the issue to which schools have shown the most leadership in combating sexual assault.

“Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee chair Barbara Will said that she believes that the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan is a sign of Dartmouth’s progress in handling sexual assault.

“It’s a definite step in the right direction,” Will said. “Something the movie made clear is that this is going to take a long time.”

Will said that she was excited for the film to come to the College and encourages students to see it.

“I think this is the right moment for the Dartmouth community to see this film and to discuss it,” Will said.

“The Hunting Ground” is currently on tour across the country, screening at various theaters and college campuses. The film is being shown at almost 300 campuses over a two-month period, Dick said, adding that he hopes that the film will help stimulate dialogue between students, faculty, and administrators about the issue of sexual assault.

“Institutions are not going to change without pressure. That’s the reality,” Dick said. “We know having a film screen on campus helps galvanize that activism and helps promote that pressure.”