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by Peter Knegt
June 22, 2012 1:29 PM
1 Comment
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Kirby Dick On His Harrowing 'Invisible War': 'We were gonna make this film no matter what'

You're uncovering some shocking truths about a very powerful organization.  Were you ever concerned about the risk of dealing with such powerful people and showing how devastating their behavior has been?

I was concerned, yeah, but you shred everything. I've always shredded everything since "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" [laughs].  But there's never been any actual threat that I've experienced. When one goes into researching these sort of crimes -- and institutions who have this reach -- there is concern. We expected blowback after the film came out, and that hasn't happened.

I think part of the reason is because the film doesn't give them any position from which to move, because it's unassailable. They can't say it's false or argue with it.  It's also not anti-military, so they can't dismiss us for just being this broadside against the military. As the public becomes more aware of it, they're in a position where they can't deny it at all because then they'll look bad. It kept them in the crosshairs in a way, and i think that prevented blowback coming back to me.

I noticed an addition to the credits of the film since its Sundance premiere. In April, you showed the film to the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, which resulted in actual policy change almost immediately.  The decision to investigate and prosecute rapists has now risen in the chain of command, which is a good start in helping bring more justice to these situations. Were there other screenings of this sort? To Congress or the Pentagon? And how has that been organized and gone over?

After Sundance we took this campaign to get it to policy makers in Congress, and particularly in the Pentagon. Not only directly to them, but even indirectly -- to show it to retired officers and the wives of officers, and to show it to non-profits and corporate leaders who are interacting with the military. We had probably several dozen private screenings. Eventually it did get to the Secretary of Defense, who saw it and then a few days later actually changed policy.

Our executive producer, Jennifer Siebel Newsom -- who's married to Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom -- told us something interesting later on. Jennifer, Gavin and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta all know each other. Jennifer met Panetta at the White House Correspondence Dinner, and he told Jennifer that he was extremely moved by the film, and actually held a press conference in part to change policy because the film had such a strong impact on him. That was something that we were very pleased by... I had hope that the film would have that kind of impact but never thought it would happen so quickly.

Have their been other responses from the Pentagon?

After Panetta announced the changes, the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon issued a statement in support of those as well, and then the President did.  The army in particular has an annual conference for all the people involved in sexual assault. About 500 people gathered together for an annual conference and the film was actually showed there. We got responses from people afterwards who are very interested in showing it, using it as a training tool. So the army has been particularly very responsive.

Well, that's amazing, especially considering -- as the film shows -- that this has been going on for decades and nothing has really been changed, even though people have come forward over and over again.  The film opens theatrically this month. What's your ideal hope for what this film facilities in terms of change?

Well, the changes Panetta announced are a good first step. But they don't take the decision to investigate and prosecute out of the chain of command. They elevate it the level of Colonel, so they take it away from the unit commander.  That's good, but until they take it out of the chain of command, there are just numerous opportunities for conflicts of interest and for justice to be denied. It has to be taken out.  This's how it's done with every justice system within this country. You don't allow these conflict of interests to be at play, and the reason it's done in other justice systems is because it works.

Most importantly, though, they need to go after these serial perpetrators. These men who are assaulting again and again. These are real enemies within the force, and they need to go after them with the same will that they fight a war. Until they do that, and until they say we have this very significant problem and that -- as a force, as the military as a whole -- we're going to solve it, they won't be putting these men before bars. If they do this, they're sending the message that you will be caught and you will be put behind bars. If they don't, these serial perpetrators know that the military isn't that serious about it.

"The Invisible War" opens in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and DC this weekend before expanding across the country throughout the summer.

1 Comment

  • No | June 22, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    I saw this film today and it an extremely powerful indictment of military justice, and an outrage that women who want to serve their country, if they are raped, that crime is considered an occupational hazard.