With no knowledge of the film’s subject matter, I took my seat in SRC 2000 excited to finally see the latest work from the director of Outrage and This Film Is Not Yet Rated. After a brief introduction by the movie’s director, Kirby Dick, Rotten Tomatoes’ 2012 Film of the Year began.
To say I was baffled at the end of 90 minutes would be an grim understatement.
The documentary begins with women explaining their choice to join different facets of the military with supreme confidence, and how exhilarating each predicted their term of service to be. At this point, the film has reached its happiness-peak, as one-by-one, women start to describe their experience with abuse. One woman from the Coast Guard had been struck by her drunk supervisor after refusing sex with him – her jaw was dislocated and she has been on a soft diet for five years. The next had been raped at the Air Force Academy, then a woman from the Navy who added of her attackers, “if I said anything, they’d kill me.”
Soon the montage of women confirming they had been victims of sexual assault grew past what I could keep count of in my head and all the isolated incidents became one clear picture: this was – this is – a problem. Piling all the stories together effectively made the audience feel the heaviness of the subject matter. Woman after woman admitted to being assaulted; each with a different name, each from a different branch of service. It was such an overwhelming start to a story that does not have a happy ending.
“Over 20% of women have been sexually assaulted while serving; 80% do not report assault due to fear of intense retaliation.” Each time a textual statistic would appear on the screen, the whole audience would gasp as the facts and numbers regarding sexual assault in the military seemed to grow worse with time. Cases were dropped, rape kits were ‘lost’, victims were told to suck it up – told that it was an ‘occupational hazard.’ Invisible War drops the viewer into the nucleus of the problem, whether you have any experience with the military or not.
A male victim even shared his story of abuse, adding an unlimited, unsettling level of wrongdoing. Post-film we found out this was the hardest interview to come by, as it was near impossible to find a male from the past five years that would come forward about their abuse due to shame. There seemed to be no relief; most certainly no justice for these victims.
The retribution for these men and women though is arriving swiftly from the overwhelming response to Invisible War. It is estimated that so far, over 250,000 military personnel have seen the film. Plus, it has been added to military training processes. Chief of Staff for the Air Force called in each of the 135 Wing Commanders from around the world to watch and discuss the film, a feat that may have never before been achieved in our nation’s history. Additionally, prosecution rights concerning assault cases have been taken away from commanders. Solid steps forward, but this documentary is just the start of the conversation.
Following the screening, I got a chance to talk with director Kirby Dick, and it was amazing to hear how knowledgeable he is about this subject without any direct ties to it. I asked him if he had any personal connection with the subject of Invisible War, or any other of his documentaries. Dick said that with the exception of This Film Is Not Yet Rated, he has no individual ties to the subjects of his films; he wanted to make people take a second look at things. He then discussed the importance of having courage when authority needs to be questioned. “I go around to colleges with this film and it prompts some to take a loot at assault on their campus.” While some administrations try to prevent people from speaking out, this director is all about planting seeds: “be the one to start the discussion.”
I asked then, if this film, among the others, is more of a journalistic mission. Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he looked over his glasses at me with a smile. He said the bottom line is that he loves filmmaking and that there are too many people who want to classify ‘journalist,’ ‘advocate’ and ‘filmmaker’ as different things. Dick said, they are not: “if you’re going to try to fit into just one category, you’re going to end up censoring yourself… don’t let invisible parameters pin you down. Be as ambitious as you can be. Take risk, you have to. Go too far and let the audience tell you to pull it back.” As a fellow storyteller and advocate, it is always reassuring to hear people that are successful in your field remind you that the sky is the limit. I am more than happy to have had the opportunity to see this important film, and touch base with such a strong industry voice.
Go to NOTINVISIBLE.ORG to find out more about protecting those who protect us…
they are not invisible.
Want to see the film?
The Invisible War will air on
PBS, Mon. May 13