Update – SFiFF 55 – Documentaries Guaranteed to Piss You Off (“Crulic – the Path to Beyond,” “The Invisible War”)

Several documentaries with the theme of “justice denied” are playing at this year’s festival. They are some of the most powerful, thought provoking, and infuriating films screened. Cases in point –

“Crulic – The Path to Beyond” might not fit the standard definition of “documentary” as it uses animation to tell the true story of a Romanian immigrant who is falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned for it. The subject of the doc tells his tale from “beyond” and relates the facts of his case and its eventual resolution. Several styles of animation are used to illustrate Crulic’s plight, his attempts to seek release, and his decision to go on a hunger strike to assert his innocence. The case is eventually dropped – because of the death of the accused.

“Crulic” tells its story in a relatively scant 70 minutes and it tells it well. Only two voices are heard (a narrators and Crulic’s) but much more is told via the animation. The soft watercolor palettes may seem at odds with the harshness of the tale, but the contrast works. What may have been a very dry documentary holds the viewers attention visually and this allows the spoken words to resonate.

Sadly, Crulic’s tale of “justice denied” is not an uncommon one.

“The Invisible War” is Oscar-nominated documentarian Kirby Dick’s latest exploration of something terribly wrong with a venerable institution. Previous targets of Dick’s camera have been the Catholic Church and its handling of child abuse cases (“Twist of Faith,”) closeted politicians undermining advances in gay rights (“Outrage,”) and Hollywood’s incomprehensible ratings system (“This Film is Not Yet Rated.”) This time he takes on the U.S. Military and its abominable record in the handling of sexual assaults on and by active duty service people.

The film consists of interviews of victims of sexual assault with cases going back to the 1960’s up to the present day. The victims (both male and female) relate the horror inflicted upon them – not just by their perpetrators, but by a military justice system that fails them. Many of the victims state that the pain the went through with the assault was nothing compared to the hell that they went through in their attempts to seek justice, proper medical and psychological care for their trauma, and to return to some sort of normalcy in their lives.

Filled with damning statistics (20% of all female military personnel have dealt with sexual assault – does that not bother you?) and interviews with bureaucrats (both military and political,) it’s the personal stories of those who tried to serve their country that get to you. These men and women entered to honorably serve and were driven out by a system that believes it’s more important to protect one’s own (usually meaning an officer) rather than support their troops.

The film is call to action to make one simple change to the current military system. The decision whether to prosecute a case is made by the site commander. Often, this commander knows or has a relationship with the accused. Does this not seem like a conflict of interest? The film highlights a group that is seeking to change that and encourages the viewer to express their outrage to those who might be able to change things. They want you to do more than slap an “I Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on your car. Will you really support your troops? Really?

The facts, figures, and stories in “The Invisible War” should turn the stomach of every citizen of our nation, regardless of political affiliation. This is not a political issue. This is a criminal justice issue. This is a human rights issue.

This is activist filmmaking at its best.

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