You’d be hard-pressed to find any socially minded documentarian whose highest goal isn’t to make a film that becomes a catalyst for direct and positive social change. But meaningful transformation, social or otherwise, is often so stubbornly resistant to even the most compelling storytelling that any shift is slow in coming and often undetectable until years after the relevant film has left theaters.
But documentary filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering seem to have beat those steep odds in spectacular fashion with this week’s news that the Pentagon is revamping its rules on reporting and prosecuting military sex crimes. This decision comes on the heels of the sartling revelations brought to light in the The Invisible War, Dick and Ziering’s feature documentary exposing the rape epidemic infecting all branches of the armed forces, which won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
The Invisible War, which also received financial assistance from Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, is structured around a series of penetrating interviews offering a rare glimpse into a secretive military culture where sex crimes against scores of men and women have often gone unreported or unpunished due to a tight-knit male-dominated heirarchy designed to protect its own. This new legislation sends a strong message that this type of victimization will no longer be tolerated and represents a tectonic shift in an entrenched system that might have been much slower in coming were it not for Ziering and Dick’s intrepid reporting in The Invisible War.
It’s rare enough for a documentary to impact legislation at all. But it’s rarer still for any film to effect policy a mere six months since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, which is what The Invisible War seems to have done. This places it in a league with other benchmark documentaries that have caused real-world change: the Paradise Lost series of documentaries, which galvanized a movement that ultimately lead to the reinvestigation and liberation of three murder convicts; and The Thin Blue Line, which convincingly served up enough exculpatory evidence to convince authorities to overturn a murder conviction and liberate an innocent man.
We commend Dick and Ziering on the courage and determination they brought to drawing attention to such sensitive subject matter. For those interested in a deeper dive into the creative and logistical hurdles the filmmakers faced while the making of the film, check out this exclusive Meet the Aritst video interview captured last December, just prior to the The Invisible War’s Festival debut.
Let us know your thoughts on this testament to documentary film’s potential to instigate powerful and immediate social change. What documentary call to arms has most fired you up to take action?