Yesterday, following new reports about sex assaults at the Air Force Academy, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a campaign to address the problem -- one that's about to get even more exposure. That's because tomorrow marks the Sundance Film Fest premiere of The Invisible War, director Kirby Dick's documentary on the subject. Local journalist Amy Herdy, who's featured in the film, will be there. She offers us this preview.
In early 2003, Westword's Julie Jargon wrote "The War Within," which revealed allegations of rape at the Air Force Academy. Later that year, while working at the Denver Post, Herdy and fellow investigator Miles Moffeit broadened the story with "Betrayal in the Ranks," an ambitious series that found similar problems at a wide range of military bases around the country.
It was an impressive piece of work that had a notable impact on policy. "Congress enacted legislation as a direct result of 'Betrayal in the Ranks,' and some forms of military justice were changed," Herdy points out. But the better part of a decade later, serious troubles persists. "I just don't know if the military followed up," she says. "It seems to be the same misogynistic, predator-rich environment that it's always been."
Director Dick, whose previous works include Twist of Faith, about an abusive Catholic priest, and This Film is Not Yet Rated, which exposed the politics of the movie-rating system, decided to take up the topic, and he sought out experts like Herdy, who was contacted by producer Tanner Barklow in September 2010. "They'd all read 'Betrayal in the Ranks,'" she recalls, "and when I met Kirby, he said, 'It's the definitive work to date on sexual assaults in the military. What you guys accomplished was amazing.'"
Still, Herdy was cautious about committing. "Right after 'Betrayal' ran, a freelance producer for 60 Minutes called us and said, 'I'd love to do a show with some of the work you've done. Can you put me in touch with some of the victims, give me some of the research?' And we did -- and then they did the entire show without mentioning us at all."
After checking out Dick's credentials, however, Herdy decided to lend a hand, digging out and sharing vintage "Betrayal" documents from her garage, providing him with tips about how to track down reports or sources, and sitting for an interview with the director and producer Amy Ziering, who she sees as a co-filmmaker on the project.
When the film was completed, Herdy and her husband sat down to watch it, and she says Dick "did more than pick up where 'Betrayal' left off. He really brought it home. Just the amount of work, the research, the access he's gotten, the way he got these women to open up and let him into their lives and confide in him about everything they've gone through, and what it's like to live with the effects of military sexual trauma and post traumatic stress disorder. It's incredible."
Watching was also frustrating for Herdy, since the film provided vivid evidence that, in her words, "nothing has changed" since 2003. But she feels The Invisible War will spur people to do something. It's basically a call to action to stop what's always gone on."
At Sundance, Herdy, who's now working for an area publishing house, will take part in press interviews in advance of the screening, which is expected to garner plenty of attention. "I'm really honored and humbled to be a part of it," she says.
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