Feb. 6, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Picture Perfect

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary films have tackled many difficult and controversial subjects, including gays in Congress, rape in the military and America’s movie ratings board.

Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering tell unconventional stories, about gays in Congress, rape in the military and French deconstructionist philosophers.

How unconventional?

Well, for one, they have nice things to say about Congress, a sentiment definitely against the grain at a time when the legislative branch has approval ratings hovering in the teens.

“There’s a lot of people trying to do the right thing in Congress, and certainly some of the people in our film are some of those people,” said Dick, the writer and director of “The Invisible War,” a documentary that examines sexual assault in the military and efforts to address it by Congress, the Pentagon and the survivors.

The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, is the third collaboration between Dick (no relation to the author of this piece) and Ziering, the film’s producer. It opens in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

The movie reports in vivid detail the eye-popping statistics about rape in the military but never loses track of the human element, the survivors, and how they cope with physical and psychological injuries, the military justice system and a seemingly indifferent Veterans Administration.

The film cites Defense Department statistics that there were 3,158 cases of sexual assault in the armed forces in 2010. And by the Pentagon’s own estimates, more than 80 percent of sexual assaults in the military are not reported. 

The filmmakers also track survivors who, unable to make headway in the military’s justice system, go to civilian court to seek relief for their injuries and in many cases retaliation. One such case stems from sexual assaults at the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill, one of the Marine Corps’ most prestigious postings.

“We thought the statistics had to be wrong,” Ziering told a screening audience recently in Washington. 

“What’s really shocking to us is how long this has been going on,” Dick added. 

 Breaking Through

Documentaries on any topic have a difficult time catching on with audiences. Washington, a natural beacon for such films, sees its share. This is, after all, the home of the Silverdocs documentary film festival, which features dozens of films ranging from politics to food policy to punk rock.

It is also fair to say that media-saturated audiences here can be difficult to impress. 

But in an interview with Roll Call, Dick and Ziering said the response to their film has been overwhelmingly positive, with people in and out of the military expressing shock and a desire to help.

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