Kirby Dick talks with director Mary Harron upon receiving the Faith Hubley Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival.
Faith Hubley was a fiercely independent, prolific animator who was courageous and tenacious in the face of government blacklisting due to her political views. As both a creative collaborator with her husband, John Hubley and a solo voice following his death, it has been said that Hubley’s “50 animated films often combined elements of myth, jazz and a deeply felt humanism”. According to The New York Times, her own films often combined “her watercolor paintings and cel animation [and] often dealt in a poetic way with the treatment of women ('Witch Madness,' 1999) and with pre-Christian myths.”
The 2012 Faith Hubley Memorial Award was presented to documentarian, Kirby Dick. Both director Mary Harron (American Psycho, The Moth Diaries) and members of the audience posed questions to the filmmaker.
Have you ever been disappointed that your films don’t have more effect or do you feel that they have done what you wanted?
The film had absolutely no impact on the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). It’s an institution that doesn’t move. I’m not sure which is more recalcitrant, the Catholic Church or the MPAA. They are both equally secretive. It’s astounding.
Of Hollywood, the Government and the Catholic Church which was the most secretive?
I think the Catholic Church. What I realised is, and this is not against religion at all. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has taken the attitude that, we think in centuries or millennium and a few decades of bad publicity is nothing to us.
You don’t just take on powerful institutions. How would you classify Derrida in your work?
I read a great deal of French philosophy and French theory and when the opportunity came up to make a film about a living philosopher like this, it seemed like a wonderful challenge. It was an incredible challenge cinematically so I jumped at it.
The Invisible War is about to come out. Have you had people involved in it suddenly become frightened that they’ve told their stories?
It’s an interesting issue in terms of documentary subjects. Not in this last one but I’ve found often that you show the final film to the subject and they like it. It’s fine. When it’s shown publicly they have this alternative character, this doppelganger, that’s out there that’s not them. It becomes a challenge to have those two things at play in public. It’s not the complete self. It’s only a character. It shows one aspect of them in a certain way that may not be the whole story. It’s hard for them to adjust to it. Also, people start relating to their character when they are interacting with them. They think their life is the character. That’s when it becomes a problem.
It’s usually something you can get over and solve. For all of the subjects of The Invisible War it hasn’t been the case. For all of the subjects it was very cathartic to make this film. Not only to get their story out but also to take something that was the most traumatic experience in their life and turn it into something positive.
It’s extremely validating. Nearly every time we show it to an audience someone stands up and says they’ve been assaulted, or they have a relative that’s been assaulted. I think for them it’s really validating as well because often these women and men think they’re the only one. Then they come and see the film and see it’s a systemic problem, that they were a victim of usually a serial perpetrator. It really lifts a great weight off.
How many people did you talk with and how did you select their stories?
We spoke to over 100 people. We probably did intake interviews with about 70 people and did pre-interviews on camera with about 40. What we wanted to do was to show this was not a story about 3, 4, 5 people. Which is how until recently it was perceived. We wanted to show that it was systemic.
One of the criteria was how recently they were assaulted. We didn’t want to give the military the opportunity to say that it was a problem in the past. In the last two years, by the military’s own estimates, 19 000 men and women have been assaulted.
A question from the audience involved the themes in Kirby Dick’s work. The question asked about exposing secrets and dealing with subject matters that are usually taboo, was there a trigger that pushed you in that direction?
I actually don’t have an answer to that, except to say I’m fascinated by the relationship between trauma and sexuality. I think trauma, on one level or another is at play in the sexuality of everyone. It obviously is very rich material for a documentary filmmaker, just like it’s rock material for a novelist. I take the opportunity to explore trauma or sexuality especially in relationship to each other.
During the making of This Film is Not Yet Rated were you followed by the MPAA?
No, I think the MPAA is too savvy. How do I know that they don’t have a camera in my trashcan? But for the last three, four films I’ve been at that level of always shredding everything. Talking to a PI who said, just as a habit you should look at your mirror every 15 seconds just to make sure you’re not being followed.
While you were learning more about this particular topic did you find any Congressional staff that have shown an interest in it? Or did you not go that far because you didn’t feel it was your role to be an advocate and a documentarian?
I don’t think there’s any problem being an advocate and a documentarian, an advocate and a journalist, an advocate and an artist. One could choose to be one or the other, or both. There are a fair number of members of Congress in the dozens who are very concerned about this issue. Obviously that’s not enough to really get any significant bill passed. The problem with Congress is that when it comes to the military it doesn’t move on any major reform without the OK of the military. The decision for this really has to be made at the Pentagon, in the administration. This film has prompted the Secretary of Defence to announce some beginning changes, which are just the first steps. We know that the film itself was one of the reasons he called the press conference to announce those changes. It’s starting but there’s a long way to go.
Are there are other countries who deal with this issue differently?
Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom now have a process where, for the most part, the decision to investigate and prosecute is taken out of the chain of command. That’s one of the biggest problems in the US military.
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