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‘The Hunting Ground’

| Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in film, television and theatre in 2000, I didn’t believe I would really have a chance to make it in the film industry. That was for ‘other’ people. That was for people who watched movies their whole lives, people who moved to Hollywood and knew famous people.

Another Notre Dame graduate had scored a job working on “The Sopranos.” He gave me a call — I would have taken any job, let alone one getting coffee for James Gandolfini and Edie Falco.

Working on set gave me the determination and confidence to turn it into a real career. As I worked my way up in the camera department, I can’t even tell you the things I saw. Non-disclosure agreements will do that. Been on every job from SNL to Oscar winning movies. Worked with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, David Bowie, Gosling, Denzel, Miley, JT and B. The shorter the name, the greater the power. You’ve got it made when you only need a single letter.

I can tell you that it can be hard to stay true to your values in this business. You have to turn down jobs — commercials for fracking, low-budget horror movies, gangster rap videos and even infomercials, shudder.

So when I showed up for work on “The Hunting Ground” I never imagined how much my values would come into question. The only thing I knew — it was a documentary fighting for social justice for rape survivors in college. One in four women are sexually assaulted at college every year, which amounts to hundreds of thousands every year. An absurdly low number of these women ever see justice, and their lives are forever altered, haunted by these crimes.

As I set up the lights and the camera for an interview with Jeff Benedict, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, I didn’t know what to expect. When he described the awful travesty of Jameis Winston of Florida State and the horrible rape he allegedly committed, it fit in well with my worldview. I was righteously indignant to hear about the crimes covered up by another Florida Football Factory. I came of age during the “Catholics vs. Convicts” era. A botched investigation by the Florida police, a District Attorney who never pressed charges and corruption at the highest levels, not a surprise.

As story after story about assault and rape at university after university unfolded I grew more uncomfortable and angry. How could these things be happening? At the University of North Carolina? Dartmouth? Harvard?

When the conversation turned to Notre Dame a chill went up my spine.

Rape. Assault. Suicide.

At Notre Dame?

I didn’t know the story of Lizzy Seeberg. Didn’t know about another reported rape by a football player. Didn’t know about the delayed investigations in South Bend, the weeks that went by while players walked onto the hallowed field that Rockne built, accused of these heinous crimes but allowed to play, unassailed and unquestioned. Weeks went by before they were even asked about the incidents by the police.

I went home feeling conflicted. Was this really the school I went to? I decided that I had to do what I could to get this film screened at Notre Dame. To start a dialogue on campus, to get students talking about their experiences and make sure this couldn’t happen again, especially at a place that I love. A place that I don’t want to see corrupted.

We all know the power of documentaries now. Ask Sea World how much “Blackfish” cut into their bottom line. Ask Robert Durst about “The Jinx.”

I hope that “The Hunting Ground” will sound the alarm for Notre Dame, and that the University can get in front of this issue and show the leadership that is so desperately needed.

If the recent scandals in the Catholic Church have taught us anything, I hope they’ve taught us that you can’t run from the truth. Transparency and accountability are more important now than ever before.

I hope Notre Dame can correct this course for the future. We desperately need national leadership on this issue, and Our Lady is just the place to start. For all ladies. “The Hunting Ground” will screen on campus April 17 at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. in the Browning Cinema at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

Daniel Feighery
class of 2000

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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