We caught up with documentary filmmaker Nicole Boxer on the red carpet of the Alliance of Women in Media Southern California’s 57th Annual Genii Awards. Nicole was presented with the Excellence in Documentary Award by her mother, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. Her recent documentary, The Hunting Ground, is an exposé of rape culture on college campuses. It is a follow up to her Oscar-nominated documentary, The Invisible War, which investigated rape in the military.
WTM: How are you feeling about being recognized tonight?
NB: It’s so amazing to be recognized by women that I admire so much in this community.
WTM: You’ve said documentary filmmaking is taking up the space left by shrinking newsrooms. Can you tell us more about that?
I think documentary filmmakers are the new investigative journalists. Budgets are crunched all over the country in traditional newsrooms like the New York Times or Time magazine. As you see people try to figure out that new space and what it looks like, it’s given documentary filmmakers an opportunity to be the ones with the long term point of view, to really investigate a story and to do it in a very meticulous way…And you see films like our films, the Invisible War and the Hunting Ground, you see other films like Food, Inc. for example or Citizen Four telling these really important stories.
WTM: How do you get it seen?
Getting it seen is a difficult thing, and it really depends on the subject matter of your film, how you can attract buyers into the space. Can you make a partnership with CNN, can you make a partnership with Netflix? There’s so many avenues now that documentary filmmakers can pursue to get their stories out there. There’re all these digital platforms. Every magazine you’ve ever flipped through is now looking to hire documentary filmmakers to make those stories into video magazine stories.
WTM: What has been the impact of The Hunting Ground?
The Hunting Ground accomplishes a number of things. Number one, it truly was a follow up to the Invisible War, which was a film just about rape in the military. That was a story that had been covered up and not reported on. With that film coming out, there were women across the country reaching out to the film team and saying “This is happening to us on college campuses. We think this is an epidemic here.” By being able to present the story so well, investigative, extremely comprehensive, you’re not just looking at just one campus or private campuses, or a couple of campuses you’re really looking at all universities across the country, you’re seeing that there’s systematic problem on college campuses.
The Campus Safety Act is an incredibly important piece of legislation. It’s yet to be enacted in full. But it’s a bipartisan piece of legislation; I think it was introduced by Senator [Kirsten] Gillibrand out of New York, and Senator Ayotte out of New Hampshire is the Republican co-sponsor. So I have tremendous hopes for that. And there’ve also been little pieces, little tweaks, that have been enacted ever since the film came out. So this is why documentary filmmaking is so important, not just to educate people that are watching out there–but as policy change makers and as activists, a lot of us filmmakers feel this is another important role that we now carry.