Over the last decade, Kirby Dick, along with collaborator Amy Ziering, have worked so intently within an investigative, truth-to-institutional-power mode, that they’ve developed their own documentary subgenre: call it Outrage Cinema (echoing the title of his 2009 exposé of closeted conservatives). These films are less interested in storytelling than in gathering mounds of testimony and snappy visual graphics, and building toward an argument for systemic change; Dick’s cinema is an agent, not an end.
So refined is this formal approach that The Hunting Ground is effectively a reprise of The Invisible War (12), with an editing grammar of talking heads, B-roll verité, and statistical punctuation, a slyly sarcastic title sequence countered by a last-act montage of sincere resilience, and even a plaintive theme song from a pop star (this time it’s Lady Gaga). The topic of both films is the pervasive disrespect and malice shown toward victims of sexual assault—first in the military in The Invisible War and now, in this film, on university campuses, where justice is roundly thwarted to maintain a clean image and steady enrollment.
Nonetheless there’s a dicey feeling of familiarity to Dick’s new film, a sense of footage fitting into pre-existing slots, that risks weakening its undisputable notion that these women’s traumas need to be heard as individual experiences. Instead of putting a human face on appalling statistics, the faces are starting to look like just more quantifiable evidence for an audiovisual advocacy project.