Documentary directors get no respect in Tinseltown. The majors will pay lip service to some of top talent, but they never seem to give them wide theatrical releases. The exception, of course, is Michael Moore. Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is the high-grossing doc in history; with pulling power like that, the studios will overlook the politics to get a piece of the action.
But it is much more common for documentary directors to struggle for screens at the multiplexes. Kirby Dick, best known for exposing the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and their hypocritical rating system in This Film Is Not Yet Rated, recently won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival with his latest documentary The Invisible War. This should make the film a sure bet, but the studios appear uninterested in distributing this one. Perhaps Dick reddened too many important faces* with Not Yet Rated (Box Office Magazine calls him an “agit-provocateur “). Or maybe it’s because of the subject matter of War. From the website www.invisiblewarmovie.com:
THE INVISIBLE WAR is a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of our country’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within our US military.
Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of several young women, the film reveals the systemic cover up of the crimes against them and follows their struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. THE INVISIBLE WAR features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm conditions that exist for rape in the military, its history of cover-up, and what can be done to bring about much needed change.
The movie has also reviewed well. Dave Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter called it “A gut punch of moral outrage…”
…Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War presents overwhelming evidence that the U.S. military’s purported zero-tolerance attitude to sexual assault is a charade. It illustrates the human cost of that sham with heart-wrenching displays of courage and dignity in the face of institutional indifference. Destined to draw major editorial attention, this hard-hitting advocacy film exposes the dirty secret not as an attack on the armed forces but as an indignant petition to protect the more vulnerable among their ranks.
It takes courage for crusading film makers such as Kirby Dick and Michael Moore to take a stand against society’s entrenched institutions, as professional retaliation is a very real threat. But we need these directors to tell these stories might not otherwise be told.
Here, Kirby explains why he made the film:
This is an important film. It deserves to reach its audience.
*Post script, April 15, 2012: Just watched This Film Is Not Yet Rated, in which Kirby Dick “outs” the “secret” identities of the MPAA raters AND the members of the MPAA appeals board. Talk about moral outrage: even though the MPAA claims to protect their raters from undue influence by the industry, the appeals board almost entirely consists of studio and theater chain execs. It is the Motion Picture Association of America, they ARE the industry. The raters are their employees, and meet with studio executives on a regular basis, of course they are being influenced.
It is possible that Kirby Dick may never get a film released by a major.