“This is a story that we thought we knew, but we really didn’t,” said Amy Ziering, the co-director of HBO’s ongoing documentary series, “Allen v. Farrow.” The story in question is that of the allegations of sexual assault and child abuse by director Woody Allen against his then seven-year-old daughter, Dylan. In just two weeks on air, the documentary has created a powder keg of talk, both on and off social media, as well as from Allen himself who has called the series “a shoddy hit piece” with “no interest in the truth.”
Allen has defended himself against these allegations for decades, reminding fans regularly that the lack of a criminal investigation and a report from Yale-New Haven Hospital exonerates him. In episode three of “Allen v. Farrow,” which aired tonight, that report is examined by directors Ziering and Kirby Dick, who showcase its numerous flaws in methodology and how a contrasting report by a New York state child welfare worker, Paul Williams, emphasized that Farrow was a credible witness and Allen should be brought up on charges.
It was Amy Herdy, investigative documentary film producer and journalist, who did the meticulous work of looking at the case files and the Yale report, much of it sitting in a basement and ignored over the years. “You can find little snippets online — a record here, a record there,” she told IndieWire. “I found a copy of the Yale-New Haven report…and that was the first time that I sat down and read the report in full and was really struck by how it appeared to be so biased.” As Dick and Ziering lay out in the episode, the report is certain in its conclusions that Dylan Farrow was unreliable, but it also necessitated interviewing her nine separate times, a concept unheard of to those interviewed in the documentary who work in child sex abuse cases.
What’s shocking to Dick, Ziering, and Herdy is that the report makes a conclusion at all with regards to Farrow being credible. “This report has been burnished, and waved about, and cited as evidence of irrefutable exoneration and it wasn’t about that at all,” Ziering said. “Frank Maco [prosecutor for the state of Connecticut] commissioned Yale to simply look into the mental health of the child. There was no ‘go talk to witnesses;’ there was no corroboration; there was no ‘go find out what the police were saying.’ That was their charge and their purview, that alone.”
Neither Ziering nor Dick can explain why Yale-New Haven went so far from their original objective. “You’ll have to ask them,” Ziering said. “We can only speculate, and we don’t pedal in speculation. But we do tell the truth and the truth is the report is flawed, we stand by that. It is not a criminal investigation report. It is not a report that evaluates guilt or innocence of predators and it should not be used as such by anyone.” But why did the Yale-New Haven report become the smoking gun for Allen, especially when Williams’ own report was there supporting Farrow?
As Herdy said, Williams was totally quashed. “His case file was never looked at until now. It was never released to the public. No one has ever seen it, as far as I know. And when we read through it, and started reading those notes we were stunned at the level of cover-up that seemed to have occurred,” Herdy said. Williams was reminded by co-workers of how political the case was and while no one can definitively state why the Yale-New Haven report was slanted against Farrow, Herdy said “a lot of careers were at stake.” On top of that, Ziering said there was punitive action regularly taken at those who went against the party line.
Allen also took a private lie detector test, a move Herdy said is suspect in itself. “One of the first things that someone who is accused of a crime, who maintains their innocence, do is they say to the prosecutor, ‘I’ll take a polygraph test.” Allen’s private test, according to Dick, was just four questions. “It was surprisingly simple,” said Dick, who wondered if it might be worth showing it to the public down the line.
That being said, the Yale-New Haven report didn’t just give credence to Allen’s alleged innocence, it kickstarted a movement that continues to reverberate negatively in the legal system. Episode 3 of “Allen v. Farrow” parallels the release of the Yale report with the rise of psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner’s parental alienation syndrome, the belief that a parent in a custody battle can brainwash a child against another parent. “We found a transcript of a speech by Richard Gardner and he said that it wasn’t getting much traction until the Woody Allen case, and then everything changed,” Dick said.
“So this is not just about one case. This is how this case was covered and how this country’s reaction to it impacted the lives of tens of thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands, of abused children,” Dick said. As the episode details and Ziering points out, the blueprint of utilizing parental alienation — which Allen himself used — by fathers against mothers, particularly where sex abuse was alleged, continues to be the standard in custody cases today. The statistics in the episode state that 98% of men who use the strategy in court win custody of their children and, in over 80% of cases, the abuse continues. “We all ran with it, gleefully ran with it, and it’s really been punitive to this day to so, so many children,” Ziering said.
Ziering and Dick are no strangers to shaking the tree in order for us to look at our judicial system, and “Allen v. Farrow” is no different than their work on similar rape culture works like “The Hunting Ground” and “The Invisible War.” However, both feel there’s been less of a reckoning within the #MeToo movement when it regards incest. “It’s much harder to come forward and say, ‘I was a victim of incest,” Dick said. “If you don’t have a lot of corroboration, particularly as a child, it’s almost impossible. But even as an adult to say this….you are then, potentially, liable to aggressive legal action.”
“Woody Allen always says he’s exonerated,” Dick said. “The reality was that there were three independent government agencies that looked into this case. The lead investigators in each of those investigations all interviewed Dylan and all three of those investigators who, by the way, are trained experts in investigating this kind of crime, all found Dylan credible and two of them recommended that it be moved to the criminal court system.”
“Allen v. Farrow” is available on HBO.