“The Hunting Ground,” a lacerating examination of college administrations’ failure to acknowledge and grapple with sexual violence on campuses, will make its case directly to students as part of an unorthodox distribution plan.
The hot-button documentary will screen in college towns and, in many cases, on the campuses themselves, according to the film’s distributor, Radius-TWC. The company plans to announce a number of participating colleges this week.
It won’t reveal the names yet, but Radius-TWC co-president Tom Quinn says they comprise a range of institutions, both in terms of size and geography.
“We have a lot of requests,” said Quinn. “These are the people that are most affected by the issue. They’re survivors and activists and individuals in the administrations of each university who want to do something impactful.”
Radius-TWC does get paid for screening the film, Quinn said.
“We’re in service of this issue, but we need to make this a financially viable endeavor,” he said.
College campuses have been used before as part of a film’s promotion — in fact, they were utilized on “Hunting Ground” director Kirby Dick’s previous film, “The Invisible War.” It’s just that they don’t tend to be emphasized this early in a movie’s theatrical release.
College campuses aren’t the only place where people can see a film that has already become an opinion pages staple with its assertion that college campuses create a culture that encourages rape and violence toward women. “The Hunting Ground” centers on two University of North Carolina students who were raped on campus and their quest for justice.
The documentary is rolling out deliberately in a handful of arthouse theaters. Last weekend it was released on two screens in New York and Los Angeles, earning $26,378. It will show at roughly the same number of venues next weekend before expanding on March 13 to other major markets such as Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
The debate it inspires will likely sell tickets, but the film will also be buoyed by strong reviews, with 89% of critics rating it favorably on Rotten Tomatoes.
In Variety, critic Ben Kenigsberg argued that the film could stir emotions in a way that leads to social change, writing, “This galvanic and compelling doc seems likely to reverberate in the public discourse and beyond.”
Even with think pieces and calls for action, documentaries face steep odds at the box office. On the list of the 10 top-grossing nonfiction films of all time are polemics like “Fahrenheit 911,” concert pictures such as “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and nature documentaries like “March of the Penguins.” More thoughtful examinations of political or social issues don’t make the cut, and rare is the documentary that crosses the $1 million mark at the box office.
Yet Quinn thinks that there’s still a need to show these films theatrically.
“Theatrical documentaries bring strangers together to completely and entirely understand an issue,” he said.
The other challenge for Radius-TWC, which scored consecutive best documentary Oscars for “20 Feet From Stardom” and “Citizenfour,” will be keeping the film alive through next awards season. Given that the issue of rape on college campuses continues to make headlines, “The Hunting Ground” will likely remain topical.
“We believe this film is still going to be important 12 months from now,” said Quinn.