Miss Representation Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom interviews Filmmaker Amy Ziering about her compelling new documentary, The Invisible War, which bravely investigates the epidemic of rape in the U.S. military. The film will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah later this week. Newsom also served as an Executive Producer on the project.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom: Tell us about The Invisible War‘s Sundance and broadcast premieres…
Amy Ziering: We’re happy to have the privilege to launch The Invisible War at Sundance as it’s a great platform for social change films. We hope to leverage the press and media attention one gets there to garner attention to this issue. With awareness comes change. We also recently got picked up by ITVS/Independent Lens (woo!) and are excited to be having our US broadcast premiere on public television which seems really like the right place for this issue and film.
JSN: What compelled you to make this film?
AZ: The director, Kirby Dick and I, read an article in Salon several years ago about the high incidence of assaults in our military and incredible damage it wreaks on its victims and our troops. We were appalled and shocked. I started doing research and reaching out to assault survivors and the more I learned, the more incensed I became. Kirby and I decided at that point we were going to make a film on this no matter what.
JSN: What obstacles if any did you have to overcome in making the film?
AZ: There were many. It was very hard to get funding. It was hard emotionally to contend with severe trauma on a daily basis. And it was exceptionally hard to try and figure out how to craft a film that would be engaging on this subject and not too off putting. So that people would see it and be moved to act.
JSN: What was the most disturbing story or statistic that you uncovered?
AZ: Statistics are hard to come by as the DoD really wants this issue to appear less serious than it is. So most of what they put out is incomplete and obfuscating. I have heard both that “1 in 5” and “1 in 3” service members are sexually assaulted cited from credible sources. Those numbers are, to me, staggering.
JSN: How hard was it to raise money for this film? Did people walk away because they were afraid of the subject matter?
AZ: It was extremely difficult/next to impossible to raise money. We had no funding for the first year and were turned down by innumerable major industry players and foundations. We were surprised and very disheartened. In fact one prominent foundation altered it’s form letter to tell us that (a) not only were they turning us down, but (b) they wanted us to not entertain any hopes of reapplying to them at a later stage!
JSN: How difficult was it to secure distribution?
AZ: Once we had a rough cut and people saw the film we didn’t have a hard time getting distribution. And once we had a trailer and got key support from our amazing executive producers, Maria Cuomo Cole, Regina Scully, Geralyn Dreyfous, yourself and Abby Disney, all of our funding fell into place. It took awhile, but we found our guardian angels.
JSN: How did you come across the survivors you interviewed in the film? Was it hard to get them to tell their stories?
AZ: It was a lot of work finding survivors. We put up a facebook page and I reached out to VAs, advocates, therapists, etc. Once I did mange to get a hold of people, they were so grateful to talk. And also very surprised someone cared and wanted to help. Their harrowing stories and sense of total and utter abandonment made me even more fiercely committed to making the film.
JSN: Are they in any danger by exposing the truth?
AZ: Yes, many of them are in danger. One of the women in the film is still in the military. We filmed her in shadow to hide her identity, but there could be serious repercussions if someone figured out who she was via the context of what she is saying. The father of one survivor, who spoke with us on camera, is currently on active duty in Iraq. His having spoken out could put his career in jeopardy.
JSN: What can we do, as individuals, to combat the ongoing sexual assault and rape that occurs within our military? Perhaps list ways people can take action against this atrocity…
AZ: One, learn more and talk about the issue. If we tell everyone, it can’t be a secret. With consciousness comes change. Two, go to our website: www.invisiblewarmovie.com and hit the “Take Action” button. We list a lot of things people can do there and also have a petition for people to sign that encourages the DoD to finally take this issue seriously and prosecute perpetrators.
JSN: Anything else you feel like sharing with us?
AZ: The issue of sexual assault in the military has a lot to do with the issues raised in Miss Representation. We found that military culture is, unfortunately, hugely sexist in a very regressive way, and this rampant and unchecked sexism does contribute to both the prevalence and overlooking of this crime. I’m hugely grateful to MissRep for all it is doing to raise awareness about the pernicious side to sexist stereotypes. We need to get both of our films on military bases as a double billing asap!
Amy Ziering is an Emmy nominated and award-winning Los Angeles producer and director. Her most recent film, OUTRAGE, examines closeted lawmakers who actively legislate against gay rights, was produced and distributed by Magnolia Pictures and had its television premiere on HBO. Ziering’s previous release, THE MEMORY THIEF, stars Mark Webber and Jerry Adler and is a thought provoking examination of the relationship between empathy, narcissism, and trauma. It was NYTIMES critics pick and won several festival awards. Ziering also co-directed and produced DERRIDA, a documentary about the world-renowned French philosopher and the philosophical movement known as ‘deconstruction’. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, won the Golden Gate award at the San Francisco Film Festival, and was released theatrically by Zeitgeist Films. It recently completed a ten year run at the Beaubourg in Paris. Ziering also produced Richard Cohen’s critically acclaimed TAYLOR’S CAMPAIGN, a documentary about Ron Taylor, a homeless person who ran for a seat on the Santa Monica City Council. Ziering is currently producing a new film for HBO and developing a documentary on animal rights. Before becoming a filmmaker, Ziering taught literature and film at Yale University.