When there is a film as powerful as The Invisible War, that sense of communality is almost essential to the experience. This year I focused my filmgoing predominantly on documentaries, always the high point of Sundance. This one, by Kirby Dick, exposes a subject – the high prevalence of rape in the military – that, amazingly, has never before been addressed in a movie. A succession of servicewomen and one serviceman recount their horrific stories as the statistics pile up: About 500,000 women have been sexually assaulted in the US military (and about 80 percent of assaults go unreported).
An estimated 30 percent of female soldiers and at least 1 percent of male soldiers are sexually assaulted during their enlistment – by their fellow soldiers. Only 2 percent of those accused of assault are convicted. The film calls for nothing less than an overhaul of the justice system so that victims feel safe in reporting these crimes and attackers are punished.
One of the interviewees, Kori Cioca, is unable to get disability relief for serious injuries sustained in her attack while serving in the US Coast Guard. She says she can't imagine a life without pain. After the film's public screening, the producer was approached by a local couple who said they would pay for all of the soldier's medical bills. When told of the gift, Cioca, and everyone within earshot, started sobbing.
Watching the Alison Klayman documentary Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry, a lot of us felt like cheering. Ai is a world-class artist and architect who is also one of China's most outspoken dissidents. His mantra is, "If you don't act, the danger becomes stronger." The film humanizes him without detracting from the symbolic importance he holds for a new generation of Chinese, who avidly follow his rallying cry, "Don't retreat, retweet." Ai was detained for 81 days in 2011 by the Chinese government just as this film, which was shot over three years, was wrapping up, giving it a special poignancy. As the film makes clear, what happens to Ai is vitally important to understanding China's – and by extension, the world's – future.