Interview With Cynthia Hill
What brought you to the topic, and in particular, the advocate Kit Gruelle?
Kit was working on the history of the battered women's movement. She met me through some friends, and knowing that I was a filmmaker asked if I would be interested in helping her tackle �that project. The more time I spent with her, the more that I understood what advocacy work was about, the more compelled I was by her story. I felt that the advocacy story had not been told before.
We as a society -- six months ago, I could say this and it was definitely true -- we felt that we got it. We were all against domestic violence. But we were still asking these questions, "Why didn't she leave?" and saying the same things, "If he hit me, I would be out of there." We weren't really understanding the complexity of it, the power dynamics. How the other person, if there's a power imbalance, slowly eats away at you and who you are. By the time the hitting comes, you've already been destroyed as a person. As Kit says, the physical violence itself is the exclamation point.
You mention the events of the past few months -- the altercation between Ray Rice and his now wife, Janay Palmer. Has it affected the response to the documentary?
It's changed tremendously. One, primarily journalists are interested in a way that they weren't before. They thought it was a tired topic, and I'm sure it'll be again. Hopefully we can make the needle move before it becomes old news again. I think the general public is seeing it in a way they haven't before. You can't unsee that footage [in the elevator] if you watched it. That's in your head. I think now people are curious and concerned.�
Was it hard getting Kit to cooperate? There's a moment in her study, where she seems startled by the filming.
Say you're making an issue-oriented film, you have to have people convey that story through. Being able to live it through the advocate and victims, I thought would let us penetrate those boundaries that we have. You're invested in their stories and their lives. You want to know how the story ends.
With Kit, I knew for a long time that's what I wanted to do. She was just a great vehicle for us to tell the story: the access she had to victims, law enforcement and judicial officials, and the way that she gets it. I didn't�want to make a film where you have talking heads explaining the issues. She is the subject and talking head all in one. Initially when I started filming, I told her I wasn't filming her, I was filming everyone else. She played along with that for a while, until finally, she said, "I know what you're doing." It took a while for her to feel comfortable, and one reason was because she had never told her story publicly in that kind of forum before. It was easy for her to share that info 1 on 1, but the idea this could become public knowledge was scary for her. Knowing that sharing that story was going to serve a greater purpose was when we made that turn.
How did you decide to focus on Deanna Walters' story?
Well one, just the horrific nature of it. It also had documentation that we were able to show. And there was a story unfolding. We were fortunate that it ends on a positive note -- for this kind of subject matter, I was happy that it ended on this hopeful note. You don't want the audience to leave feeling defeated. You want them to leave feeling that there's something we can do. This can get better and will get better, if we work together to make it happen.
How much time elapsed with Deanna's case? Was it hard for her to cope as it worked its way through the system?
We met her in the beginning of 2009 and stopped filming with her after three-and-a-half, four years. Initially she didn't think anything would happen, so for her the length of time wasn't so bad. Just knowing something happening and that people were taking the case seriously... It could have turned so differently for her.
Can you discuss the recurring motif of Kit's newspaper clippings about violence against women? We see her clipping them and pinning them up.
Kit travels around with a big bag of these articles. For her, it plays such a huge role in her daily life just knowing what's going on and how women are being affected, and also, being able to understand what the headlines mean. They'll say "estranged ex-husband," "estranged boyfriend," "ex-boyfriend," and she'll school me: See? They left. For her, it's being on top of it and understanding how we see this crime. And how the media reports the crime. I don't have statistics [in the documentary] so the headlines are replacing that information. Kit's always telling me, don't believe the statistics. They're horrible, and she's like, "They're way worse."
Kit is a survivor who became an advocate, and we learn Deanna is training to work with the FBI. Is a future related to law enforcement a common trajectory for survivors?
I think there are a lot of women out there that once they have gone through this, it leaves such a huge imprint and kind of defines them. Being able to make something positive come out of it, and allow them to take control of it is important for them. For sure Kit and for sure Deanna, I see both of them as taking this thing that has been so horrific but then channeling it help other women. It's really inspiring.