'Hunting Ground' Updated

The film originally claimed that the "presidents or chancellors of UNC, Harvard, Notre Dame, Florida State, Berkeley, Occidental and more than 35 other schools all declined to be interviewed." It's no longer making that claim.

March 2, 2015

The filmmakers behind “The Hunting Ground” -- a searing new documentary about how colleges mishandle cases of campus sexual assault -- have removed a statement featured in an earlier print of the film that claimed leaders at 35 institutions declined to be interviewed.

When the documentary premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance film festival in January, it concluded with the claim that the "presidents or chancellors of UNC, Harvard, Notre Dame, Florida State, Berkeley, Occidental and more than 35 other schools all declined to be interviewed for this film." Some critics, including at The New York Times, interpreted the phrase to mean that no senior college officials agreed to appear in the documentary.

As college leaders are often criticized for not speaking out about sexual assault, the statement served as a final damning detail in a documentary that is filled with them. But that particular detail -- or at least how it has been interpreted -- is not entirely accurate.

The film actually includes brief quotes from Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity Washington University, who has written that college leaders need to take a more active and informed role in protecting women on their campuses. Carolyn (Biddy) Martin, president of Amherst College, also sat for an unused on-camera interview for the film. Amherst has had very public discussions about how to respond to sexual assault.

When the film was screened for reporters in Washington earlier this month, the statement had been altered.

It now lists only the University of North Carolina, Harvard University, Florida State University, the University of California at Berkeley, Occidental College and the University of Notre Dame, as well as its sister institution, St. Mary’s College. These colleges are the ones most frequently highlighted in the film, in particular UNC, where the documentary’s two primary subjects were students. Their story, in which they become activists who travel around the country to inspire other victims to speak out and use the gender discrimination law Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to hold colleges accountable, provides the film’s narrative arc.

Along the way, “The Hunting Ground” takes frequent detours to call out a number of other institutions for mishandling or ignoring the issue, including Arizona State University, the University of California at Davis, George Mason University, the University of Southern California, Swarthmore College, Columbia University, Yale University, Brandeis University, Stanford University, Vanderbilt University and Amherst, among others.

The original statement at the end of the film did not clarify which of these colleges were among the “35 other schools” that declined to be interviewed.

A publicist for the documentary confirmed Friday that “the text did change,” but the filmmakers did not respond to several requests over the last two weeks to explain why the line was cut. They were unavailable for comment on Friday. In January, a publicist defended the original statement, saying that there was nothing unfair about the claim. Some colleges, however, said that it was misleading.

A spokesman for Amherst last month said that Martin, the college’s president, felt it was important for her as president to make herself available when the producers of "The Hunting Ground" asked for her time. She also appears in another recent documentary about the issue called “It Happened Here.”

The spokesman said the statement that first appeared in "The Hunting Ground" suggested “something at odds with the facts of President Martin's interview with them." He added, however, that "we certainly hope this unfortunate matter doesn't detract from the importance of the film or the change that it is helping to further."

Other institutions contacted by the filmmakers but that neither agreed nor refused to appear in the film worried that they were included among the 35 colleges that allegedly declined to be interviewed. Two reported being asked just weeks before the Sundance premiere, and said that they didn't have time to set up an interview and that they suspected the film's conclusions were reached long before they had a chance to talk.

At least one university president was asked to appear in the film just prior to winter break, only to be told later that he was no longer needed for the documentary. The request was e-mailed to the university on Dec. 21. “The Hunting Ground” premiered at Sundance on Jan. 23. “I find their tactics deceptive at best and more likely, manipulative and agenda driven,” an official at the university said.

“The Hunting Ground” opened in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday. It will screen nationally and on CNN in the spring.  


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