‘Allen v. Farrow’ Filmmakers on How Mia Farrow Agreed to Cooperate and Tackling Incest Taboos
“Allen v. Farrow” directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering never set out to make a movie about the allegations of sexual assault made by Dylan Farrow against her father Woody Allen. And nobody – even Dylan – expected her mother Mia Farrow to ever cooperate.
“I always like to say, our films find us, we don’t find them,” Ziering tells Variety’s Award Circuit podcast. She and Dick were interviewing people who had spoken up following the #MeToo movement, which is how they met Dylan Farrow: “Dylan was just one interview that we were doing that day; we had five a day. And in the course of her interview, we were listening to her and going, ‘Wait…I thought I knew her story. That’s not exactly what I remember – or how it was portrayed in the media or public.”
Following that interview, their producer Amy Herdy said she wanted to investigate further. “We all spoke and Amy was like, ‘I want to dive in; there’s more to this story than anyone ever knew or suspected.’” And that was the genesis of how “Allen v. Farrow” began. Through interviews with experts, people involved with the case and mountains of court documents and research, the filmmakers began to piece together a story that surprised them – and audiences, when it premiered on HBO in February.
“What was really interesting about this story is everybody thought they knew the story,” Dick says. “And once we started getting more and more information, we realized that there was so much more here to tell. And we realized that it really deserved its own series at that point. It’s a family story, I mean, it’s about a family who lived through and through this in the glare of the media, right? But it’s also about this bigger issue, too, of incest. Because, you know, Dylan isn’t the only person that’s experienced this – many, many millions of people have. So it was both this very intense, private family story that we wanted to tell. But we also wanted to open it up and give it from this much broader perspective as well.”
One of the big misconceptions about the case is that Mia Farrow took the allegations public in 1992 and talked about it in the press. In reality, it was Allen who held press conferences to state his innocence and a doctor who first alerted the authorities after examining Dylan. Prior to this series, Farrow had never spoken on camera about the case. And from the start, Dylan said her mother would never agree to an interview.
While Herdy pursued Mia Farrow for some time, she always got a no. “Finally, Dylan called her and said, ‘Mom, you know, I think these people are different. I think they’re really doing their homework. I think they’re not just accepting common wisdom as truth. Would you do it for me?’” reveals Ziering. “Because Dylan had asked her, she says, ‘You’re my daughter, and I stood by you, and I will do it.’”
Tackling such sensitive material has become a specialty of Dick and Ziering, who previous works include their Oscar-nominated films “The Invisible War,” which investigated sexual assault in the military and “The Hunting Ground,” which examined sexual assault on college campuses. Most recently, HBO released their 2020 film “On the Record,” which centered on the allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Russell Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam Records.
But in many ways, incest remains a taboo topic. Asked why it’s so difficult to discuss, Dick says, “Well, I think for one thing, it is so profoundly painful, there is such a profound betrayal there that it often takes someone who’s a survivor decades to work through it. Dylan said, ‘There really hasn’t been a #MeToo movement yet for incest.’ I mean, people have come out over the last several years, very courageous people. But given the numbers of people that are survivors, I think we’re still waiting for that. And hopefully, this, this, you know, this series will help to propel that.”
Ziering revealed a personal story from attending college in the early 1980s and talking to a group one night in the dorms where they all shared their first sexual experiences. “And this friend sitting next to me, who had lived in the same dorm was like, ‘Wait, you guys didn’t all sleep with your brother?’ And we all were like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And that, for me was so instructive,” said Ziering. “A lot of times, survivors only figure it out until much later. And then it’s very complicated to come forward. All the family dynamics are really disrupted.”
Ziering added that there is a legal aspect as well. “It’s unlike any other assault crime where you could say, ‘I was assaulted in college, I was assaulted in the military.’ No one would connect the dots and know who your alleged perpetrator is. If you said, ‘I was assaulted by a family member,’ it’s a very finite circle. So you can be subject to libel.”
Ultimately, says Ziering, “It isn’t something that we really have reckoned with yet in our culture, and we hope, given the response to ‘Allen V. Farrow,’ that this series will help others feel safe, at least or feel seen or heard for the first time.”
Also in this episode, we chat with “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss about directing several pivotal episodes this season. But first, on the Variety Awards Circuit roundtable, we discuss the rise of genre programming at the Emmys.
Variety’s Emmy edition of the “Awards Circuit” podcast is hosted by Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Danielle Turchiano and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in television. Each week during Emmy season, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.
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