Movie Review ~ The Hunting Ground



The Facts:

Synopsis: An expose of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families.

Director: Kirby Dick

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I believe the best kind of documentaries are the ones that expose an ongoing problem that may not be getting the media attention it deserves.  With so many of our headlines looking at the issues we face on foreign soil, there can be a lack of attention to the concerns that are right on our front doorstep. Director Kirby Dick has been a documentary filmmaker of acclaim for over three decades but especially in the last ten years he’s been shining a light on a diverse roster of subjects.

Receiving his first Oscar nomination for 2004’s Twist of Faith which focused on child abuse within the Catholic Church, Dick followed that up in 2006’s This Film is Not Yet Rated, where he attempted to peel back the veil of secrecy surrounding the ratings board of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America.  Controversy surrounded 2009’s Outrage as it looked at the hypocrisy of Washington D.C.’s closeted gay politicians, and 2012’s Oscar-nominated The Invisible War detailed rape within the armed forces.

Now comes The Hunting Ground, a painful journey into the growing epidemic of rape on college campuses from sea to shining sea.  Interviewing dozens of survivors of sexual assault during their college experience, Dick goes further and suggests that many of these incidents are kept on the down low by college officials more interested in keeping the money flowing than guarding their student body.

As is the case with most of the work from this director, it’s pretty incendiary material meant to spark discussion.  Dick seems to be of the position that if he’s presenting the facts, it’s the onus of the individuals and collegiate organizations accused of sweeping reports of rape and sexual assault under the table to provide proof that he’s wrong.  Sadly, it seems clear that Dick and producer Amy Ziering have revealed a long-standing cover-up that’s remained unchallenged until now.

What makes this documentary so powerful and terrifying to watch is not the evidence that shows students have a better chance of being kicked out of school for cheating than raping a classmate but in the stories relayed by the victims themselves.  Mostly women (several men are interviewed but only briefly), it’s painful to hear their narratives of elation at being accepted into higher education turn into somber reflections of grief after being victimized not just by their attacker but by the school that should have protected them.

It’s a well-made documentary that has a lot of talking heads spouting facts and countless faces of survivors with stories to tell.  Dick devotes a nice portion of the film into following the efforts of two females that decided to take a stand and effect change within the collegiate system even if their administrators wouldn’t.  As they travel around and connect with other individuals in similar situations, their network of support grows.

A film that should be shown on all college campuses and especially to all incoming freshman, The Hunting Ground will hopefully be a call to action that a very real problem continues to plague the grounds of higher learning.

Movie Review ~ Seymour: An Introduction


The Facts:

Synopsis: Meet Seymour Bernstein: a beloved pianist, teacher and true inspiration who shares eye-opening insights from an amazing life. Ethan Hawke helms this poignant guide to life.

Stars: Seymour Bernstein, Ethan Hawke

Director: Ethan Hawke

Rated: PG

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  This sensitive doc from Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) is a good example of how to treat your elders…listen, learn, let them talk.

Famed pianist Seymour Bernstein may not be a household name to most because he hasn’t performed in public for decades, but after a chance encounter with Bernstein at a dinner party the actor became interested in learning more about the life-long New Yorker that imparts his wisdom to his students, his friends, and his contemporaries.

At a trim 84 minutes it’s less a biopic and more of a discussion with biographical context. We hear about Bernstein’s first encounter with music when a piano is brought into his house, which up until that point didn’t even have a radio to listen to.  Over the years his talent became evident, with only his mother fully supporting the musical prodigy her son was becoming.  Growing stage fright kept Bernstein out of the public eye for years, only occasionally playing for anyone outside his small one room apartment just big enough for a piano and pull out bed.

Hawke clearly found a kinship is Bernstein as the actor relays his own burgeoning stage fright these past years.  Perhaps making a film on Bernstein’s life and capturing on film his sage words was a way to exorcise some of those demons that plague many a creative individual.  No matter what the reason, Hawke’s portrait of Bernstein is as delicate as Bernstein’s technique, a technique Hawke shows in several working sessions Bernstein has with his students.  Quick to correct his pupils but just as quick to praise them, his attention to the smallest detail provides great insight into what it takes to achieve his level of musical sophistication.

A treat of a film, if there’s one drawback it’s that there’s no true momentum to be had.  Yes, Bernstein’s an interesting character and I think I could have sat through his entire master class, but the final result is an abridged autobiography conveyed on film.  Still, it’s so short that you can’t help but pay rapt attention and think about the Seymour Bernsteins in your own life.