Filmmakers look at Woody Allen abuse allegations in four-part series
By Nicole Sperling
The documentary filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have spent the past decade illuminating sexual abuse accusations in institutions like the military, in “The Invisible War” (2012); colleges, in “The Hunting Ground” (2015); and the music in-dustry, in “On the Record” (2020). Now they have set their sights on Dylan Farrow’s deca-des-old sexual abuse allegations against her adoptive father, Woody Allen.
“Allen v. Farrow” is a four-part docu-series set to debut later this month that takes viewers into Farrow’s public experience of accusing a famous and powerful man of abu-se but also lays out details of the case that haven’t been shared with the public.
Initially, Farrow’s story didn’t comport with Dick and Ziering’s usual broad-based investigations, but on closer examination the filmmakers found it offered them a chance to discuss familial child abuse and incest, a to-pic that survivors consistently asked the two to tackle.
“I was haunted by these stories,” Zie-ring said. “That’s the third rail. That’s what no one talks about.”
Everybody, though, talks about Woo-dy Allen and Mia Farrow. The one-time Ho-llywood power couple were together for 12 years. Never marrying and keeping separa-te residences, they made 13 films together, adopted two children (Dylan and Moses), and sired another (Satchel, who changed his name to Ronan after his parents split). They were the talk of the town until it all came crashing down in 1992.
In the course of eight months, Farrow discovered naked photos of her then colle-ge-age daughter Soon-Yi Previn in Allen’s apartment; that summer, 7-year-old Dylan said Allen sexually assaulted her. Those ac-cusations led to an ugly custody fight and a family permanently torn asunder. Allen has consistently denied the accusations, and after investigations in Connecticut and New York, he was not charged with a crime.
Set to begin Feb. 21 on HBO, the series features home video shot by Mia Farrow as her children were growing up in Connecti-cut and audio she surreptitiously recorded of some conversations she had with Allen. And, for the first time, we see the videotape accou-nt from 7-year-old Dylan, shot by Farrow in the immediate wake of the accusations. The tape has become something of a hot button over the past two decades, characterized by one side as evidence of her veracity and by the other side as proof that Farrow coached her daughter in her responses.
The filmmakers also raise questions about a crucial report issued by the Yale Child Sexual Abuse Clinic, at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, which found Dylan uncre-dible after interviewing the child nine times during a seven-month period.
Neither Allen, Soon-Yi Previn nor Mo-ses Farrow participated in the documentary. (The majority of Farrow’s other living children did.) They declined to comment in response to the series, which they have yet to see.
I asked Dick and Ziering why they de-cided to get involved. Below are edited ex-cerpts from our conversation.
Q: For so long, this story has been por-trayed as a he said-she said family drama, with many people declaring, “We will never know the truth.”
ZIERING: As you dig closer, you see that it’s he said, he said, he said, he said, he said, he said, she said [whispered], he said, he said, he said, he said. But we didn’t know it. No one knew it.
When you are getting this echo chamber of a certain perspective and a certain narrative, you are not realizing the source. That’s what was interesting as we unpacked it. And as we started hearing the “she said” part and fact-checking the “he said” part, it got extremely interesting.
Q: Since the #MeToo movement be-gan, Allen has been ostracized in a number of ways: Amazon canceled his multiple-picture movie deal. His latest film still hasn’t found U.S. distribution. The first publisher of his memoir backed out. Some actors have said they won’t work with him going forward. Why put this documentary out now?
ZIERING: Our objective is never about the perpetrator. It’s more about all of us un-derstanding these crimes, understanding the way we are all complicit to these crimes and I do mean all of us, both wittingly and unwit-tingly. It’s also about how do you talk about something that happens all the time in Ame-rica and no one feels comfortable talking about? This isn’t the full exploration of that. It’s one way to get people to start thinking about that.
DICK: Like “On the Record,” whe-re people got to experience what happens when a person decides to come forward and the immediate aftermath, this gets inside the experience of the people involved. That’s why it’s not just about somebody who is ac-cused.
Q: Whether by the media, or by Allen himself, Farrow has long been depicted as somewhat unstable. Was that your percep-tion of her going into this and did it change?
DICK: I just want to say that the sus-picion and criticism put on mothers in ge-neral in this society is just evidence of mi-sogyny. People like to “blame” mothers for everything. So from the beginning, I was very suspicious of that narrative because it is a mi-sogynistic narrative — the idea of the hyste-rical woman, the crazy woman. That’s what is put out not only in cases of incest, which it’s put out quite frequently, but also in cases of sexual assault. Hearing that made me very, very suspicious.
ZIERING: There are amazing testa-ments [to Farrow] and people will see the home videos Mia shot of her children throug-hout their lives. We got a lot of love and prai-se from the people we interviewed about her qualities as a mother.
Q: At the end of the documentary, Mia says she’s still scared of Woody, actually wo-rried about what he will do when he sees this series. Why, then, did she decide to partici-pate? What was her objective?
ZIERING: She did not want to be part of this. She did this for her daughter, Dylan. In fact, in the interview you see her in, she is in my shirt. I literally had to borrow a shirt from someone else and give her my shirt because when she showed up, she did not want to do the interview, she was so unhappy. What was she wearing? I don’t even remember.
She said, “My daughter came to me, said this is important to me and I need you to do this for me.” And she said: “I stand by my kids. I’m going to take incoming fire. I don’t know you, Amy. I don’t know Kirby. I know your work. I have been excoriated for doing nothing.”
Q: In the series, there is a lot of scru-tiny placed on the Yale-New Haven clinic; from the number of times the clinicians inter-viewed Dylan to the fact that all the contem-poraneous interview notes from those ses-sions were destroyed when the final report was issued. In your previous investigations into sexual abuse, have you ever seen a si-tuation where notes like that were destroyed?
DICK: I hadn’t. It’s really shocking that notes would be destroyed but that’s one of the reasons that the full story never came out. If everything had been transparent we wouldn’t have made this series.
Q: How actively did you try to reach Soon-Yi, Moses and Woody? Did you ever get any response from any of them?
DICK: We definitely reached out. We did not expect them to speak. If we were making a film about Woody Allen’s career, he probably wouldn’t speak to us. It didn’t surprise us.