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Interview with Amy Ziering - Producer of The Invisible War

Features
by Melissa Silverstein
June 29, 2012 10:59 AM
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The Invisible War continues its roll out this weekend.  It should be on your must see list.  Producer Amy Ziering who made this film with director Kirby Dick talked about the film with Women and Hollywood.

Women and Hollywood: What moved you to make this film?

Amy Ziering: We initially read an article in Salon and Kirby and I talked about the situation and then we started our investigation and research.  We started getting responses from survivors from across the country and I started talking to them.  As surprised and shocked I was by the research it was the persoanl connection to the stories that made us lock down and commit to make the best film we could.

WaH: You and Kirby are a filmmaking team.  Can you talk about how you work together?

AZ: It's very collaborative and it changes from film to film.  The first project we worked on together, Derrida, we co-directed.  The last film Outrage, I was the producer and he was the director.  This film was much more of a collaboration - he is the director and I am the producer - but this is a film by both of us. 

WaH: Talk about the title.

AZ: I came up with it and I can't remember why.  Usually we have such troubles with titles and don't get one until late in the game. Outrage was called The Glass Closet, which I liked, but it got changed by the distributor.  This one I came up with early on and everyone liked it and it never budged.

WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?

AZ:  One of the top challenges is the fact that you are dealing with survivors.  Every time you deal with a documentary film subject it is fraught with obvious minefields but when you are dealing with a population that is severely traumatized and trying to recover from that trauma there is an extra level of vigilance and care and attention that has to be implemented all the time at every level.  Are you making them feel comfortable during the shoot?  Are they in the right place to withstand the attention when the story goes public?  It's just a whole different level of concern and that is something that was categorically different working on this film than any other project we had done.

The other difficulty was the levels of secrecy we had to maintain around the project at all different times.  We had to keep it a secret while making it so we could move under the radar so we could get the stories.  Before it came out we had to keep it on lock down to protect the safety and security of some people who appear in the film. 

WaH: I was so upset at the responses of now fired General Mary Kay Hertog.  What is it like sitting in a room with someone who is toeing the line and you know that they are not telling you the truth?

AZ: Well that's an interesting question.  It was a really dramatic behind the scenes moment especially for Kirby.  Kirby is extremely level headed and politically shrewd and I tend to be less so in all departments.  He was doing that interview and I was behind a screen and I was getting more and more crazy and infuriated.  At times I would be shouting out from behind my screen and Kirby was glaring at me and telling me to be quiet, and I think at one point he told me to put a lid on it.  Everyone thought we were going to be thrown out.  The general was very polite and did engage.  After we left her office and did a few more interviews at the Pentagon (that didn't end up making it to the final cut) and I calmed down we went to Susan Burke's office (the lawyer in our film) to debrief, and I was so revved up that I asked Kirby turn on the camera.  I said the things that Hertog said and I got Susan to go on the record in response.  That's it in the film.  That's how we got that.  It wasn't a scene we planned. 

Wah: The fact that she is a woman is just another dagger.

AZ: I think it's sort of gender blind.  I found men and women who were wonderful on this issue and women and men who were not.  It kind of depends.  She's very nice and straightforward otherwise and is a well respected General.  I don't have any personal animus towards her and it's very hard to rise to the level that she rose to as a woman.  I think she was just in the wrong department at the wrong time.

WaH: Lots of documentaries strive to make change and see a difference and this one is clearly effected change.  How does that feel?

AZ: I don't know.  It's hard to process honestly.  It doesn't happen often, it's what you dream and hope for.  We are happy, but we want to make sure these changes have teeth.  What we want to get across most is that this is a real opportunity for the military.  They can step up and be a leader on misogyny and gender issues.  When I talk with women who have had wonderful experiences in the military it's because their commanders treated them with respect and dignity and gave them equality with their peers that was unparalleled in their lives.  Things can change if the military can do a paradigm shift and gets out of the shame and coverup cycle and be a leader in our culture.  In the 50s, 60s and 70s there were huge race problems in the military even more severe than the culture at large.  The military saw it was detrimental and it changed and became a model to society at large.  It led us.  They were ahead on integration.  That's the dream.  We are obviously thrilled that that the film has hit its target.  You always try and make a film that is a letter that will be read and we are so glad that it is being read by the right people in the right place and is inspiring change.  It is also gratifying that the survivors are finding it healing and transformative.  That's been really great. 

WaH: What advice could you give to people who want to make social action films like yours?

AZ: Be very focused.  Do your homework so your research and claims are unassailable.  Make sure it is bulletproof and then make sure you are really focused.  The thing I find is that the issues are usually so large that you try to cover a lot of ground.  That's a natural impulse.  But make sure it is not too diverse or spread out so people don't know where to go or what to do.  So keep a sharp focus.  It can be ambitious but should have a small agenda.  Figure out the one solution -- not three -- that you want to see happen.  There were quite a few things we could have gone after but we decided to focus on the commanders and that was a strategic decision because that, for us, would be the most vulnerable point and the most effective one that could immediately change.

WaH: So the ultimate outcome for you is that the commanders change and put policies in to treat women better?

AZ: Whenever I spoke with anybody who said they did not have a problem in the military it was because their commander treated them well.  Every single time it was about the commander as to whether they had a good or bad experience.  That's why in our film we didn't go after perpetrators.  We said if the commander really takes these issues seriously and does not tolerate any issues of sexual harassment, physical abuse, and sexual assault it is a totally different experience for men and women.   We really want to send the message that commanders need to understand and be accountable.  We saw that with the Catholic Church. No one cared when they went after the priests, but when they focused on the bishops then things began to change.  And we see that analogy working with the military.

Info on where the film is playing.

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