Kirby Dick and Amy Zierings documentary films have tackled many difficult and controversial subjects, including gays in Congress, rape in the military and Americas movie ratings board.
“One of the things that just struck us about this was the lack of awareness about this issue. ... Most of the time when we would speak to people and tell them we were making a film about this, people were just astonished that it was even an issue at all and that they hadn’t heard of it,” Dick said.
At a June 4 screening, gasps from the audience were audible throughout the movie, matching Dick’s assertion that his discovery of the statistics and stories surrounding military sexual trauma were almost unbelievable.
Lawmakers have taken notice, too, and support for addressing the issue cuts across the political spectrum. Conservative Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and liberal Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) are shown in the film giving impassioned floor speeches supporting the sexual assault victims featured in the film who filed a class action lawsuit.
Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), also featured in the film, has introduced legislation, the Defense Sexual Trauma Response Oversight and Good Governance Act, with 39 bipartisan co-sponsors. The bill would shore up the rights of military sexual assault victims and establish a better tracking system for the problem.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta watched the film April 14 and shortly thereafter changed the protocol for initiating an investigation into sexual assault.
Ziering said the issue is one of national security.
“It’s not only morally wrong, but you’re actually damaging the military’s strength. ... The military is smart and it really doesn’t want that to happen,” she said, expressing optimism that now that the issue is out in the open, solutions will be easier to come by. “I think the pressure will be twofold. I think it will come from within the military and without, if we get it seen by enough right people in the right places, which is happening,” she said.
“I think there are a lot of people in Congress, just like in society, who weren’t aware of the nature of the problem, the extent of the problem and what ... the military was losing in not addressing it,” Dick said.
‘Out’ in the Open
While Dick’s career as a filmmaker stretches back to the 1980s, he came on Washington’s radar with his 2006 picture, “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.”
The film, a witty and dogged examination of the powerful Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board and a critique of its transparency and standards, was followed by changes in how the ratings board operates.
He followed that with 2009’s “Outrage,” teaming up with Ziering, who produced. The film examines lawmakers and other public figures who have engaged in homosexual behavior who have voted consistently against gay causes.
Dick sees a connection to how the public and the media approached the subject matter of “outrage” and his latest film.
“The media wasn’t covering it or it just wasn’t getting written about. So I think that’s similar to ‘The Invisible War.’ I think ‘The Invisible War,’ it lays out the issues. It’s a very strong, and I think in many ways, unimpeachable argument,” he said.
He added that he sees the issue of military sexual assault as a much more damaging phenomenon than the political hypocrisy outlined in “Outrage.”
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.