It’s hard to watch a film about a large institution failing to respond to pervasive sexual assault. It’s even harder when the film is a documentary.
“The Invisible War,” which was screened Sunday at Barnard’s Athena Film Festival, challenges the manner in which the U.S. military handles rape. By weaving together personal stories and poignant silences, the film manages to show how the armed forces deal with—or institutionally ignore—sexual harassment and assault.
In a discussion following the screening, producer Maria Cuomo said that before taking on “The Invisible War,” she didn’t know how the military responds to rape. She was “shocked and horrified” by what came to light about the process, she said.
The film tells the stories of about 50 women and men who have survived sexual assault, following the consequences of their decision to pursue justice, and their struggle to be heard. By focusing on the victims’ daily lives, the film reveals the way in which the military deals with sexual assault by intimidating victims.
Cuomo credits the investigative journalism aspect of “The Invisible War” as what drew director and writer Kirby Dick to the topic.
“It was a shift in how Kirby makes film. He hasn’t previously made a movie for social change, so this was a very new experience with him,” Cuomo said.
The film comes at a time when the military’s failure to respond adequately to sexual assault is becoming increasingly visible, even being brought up at the confirmation hearings for former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.
“Now is really the time that people are taking notice,” Cuomo said.
One of the filmmakers’ goals is to use “The Invisible War” to create a cultural change by bringing the issue a wider audience. The plan to show the film to military officials ,to raise awareness about the ineffectiveness of their current campaign to end sexual assault.
To create the documentary, the filmmakers interviewed more than 100 subjects, and while not every interviewee’s footage was used in the film, the number of people willing to tell their stories might indicate that the conversation surrounding sexual assault in the military is moving in the right direction. And one of those interviewiees, whose story was featured in the film, has already been impacted by it for the better.
“Somebody came forth and actually asked to pay for her healthcare—and that’s something remarkable that’s happened” Cuomo said.