THERE ARE SOME WORKS OF WRITING or painting, speech, or film that do more than just stand as great works of art. They change things. They put before us something fundamentally wrong with the world — with the society we take for granted, with the institutions on which we depend and that in turn depend on us — and demand change. The Invisible War belongs in that pantheon, and is easily one of the most important films of the year.
Oscar-nominated filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have delivered an open letter to the military that manages to balance journalism with rage, patriotism with disillusionment in a methodical, carefully crafted narrative form. The Invisible War exposes a rampant and ignored crisis of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military that has reached epidemic proportions. Watching the film is an exercise in outrage, as we discover the crisis very much the way the filmmakers did: shocked at its proportion, disgusted at the culture of institutional secrecy that, in an undeniable parallel with the Catholic Church, works to conceal and cover it up. While that culture has succeeded in protecting the institution, as well as the perpetrators of these crimes, it has left behind generations of women and men who entered the military as patriots to their country, only to find themselves not just traumatized but abandoned, even vilified.
The film, while not anti-military, was made in part to change its culture of silence around sexual assault and upend policies long in place that have contributed to the crisis. Remarkably, it has already led to real change. Members of Congress attended the film’s award-winning debut at Sundance. Sixteen Senators and eight members of Congress attended a screening on the Hill, and Representative Mike Turner is hosting a second. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta held a press conference in which he announced that the decision to investigate and prosecute sexual assault crimes will be elevated from the level of unit commander to the level of colonel; soldiers who report and fear for their safety may now request a transfer to another unit. These are small steps, but an important beginning the film has made possible.
I sat down with Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering following the screening of the film in Los Angeles on June 11. The Invisible War opens in select cities nationwide today.
Jonathan Hahn: Amy, tell us about where you’re from, where you were born and raised.
Amy Ziering: I was born in Massachusetts, but then moved to Los Angeles when I was six. I then went back east for school and ended up living there until I was 30 before moving back again to L.A., so I guess I’m a hybrid. My background is pretty much academic. I was in a Ph.D program in Yale for comparative literature, but I was really into philosophy and literary theory. That was my specialty. Particularly, Continental Philosophy. I never really liked that word, but I was very attracted to that field of philosophy for its political dimensions. That led me to want to make a film about a philosopher I was working with at Yale, Jacques Derrida, who is known for coining the term “deconstruction.” It was my interest in his work, and wanting to document it for posterity, that led me into actual filmmaking. I w...read more