An accusation of sexual abuse turned into a controversial custody trial that has been making headlines for many decades, gets investigated by filmmakers Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy over the course of four episodes in the new HBO documentary series, Allen v. Farrow. Is the world ready to face the facts and evidence put in front of them, or are we as outsiders part of the problem?
For those, just like me, who aren’t very familiar with the trials and tribulations of former Hollywood power couple Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, the series does a tremendous job at painting a picture of what the talented filmmaker and actress-turned-activist have accomplished in their professional careers and what their lives looked like before, during and after their intimate relationship. Instead of just focusing on the many sensational tabloid articles and scathing television interviews, the investigative filmmakers dig deeper to reveal never-before-seen home videos, audio tapes, court documents, police evidence and many interviews with family, friends and eyewitnesses, most of them speaking publicly about the events for the very first time ever.
Front and center is their then seven-year-old daughter Dylan, who accused her father of sexual abuse and is here to put the record straight. The intimate look into her upbringing isn’t all grim, as the now adult Dylan recalls the fond memories of vacations and on set stories like a “real Hollywood family”. As she goes on, in her secluded lake house somewhere in Connecticut, “you can love somebody and be afraid of them“, while her mother Mia is visibly still being consumed by guilt for bringing this man into her family. It’s heartbreaking to witness a seemingly happy family get ripped apart by this horrific event, who later on also shockingly found out about Woody’s relationship with Mia’s daughter Soon-Yi, who was fresh out of high school, even though some would say this started while she was still completing her senior year.
With last year’s Woody Allen’s Apropos of Nothing, of which the series cleverly uses excerpts to accentuate some prolific statements and Woody’s version of the story, there’s doubt throughout the first two episodes in which we’re not sure what or who to believe since everyone has their own opinion on what actually went down. Allen v. Farrow does an outstanding job at giving the viewer the benefit of the doubt, when proof gets put in front of the viewer, putting the pieces of the puzzle together. When graphic details of Dylan’s sexual abuse emerge, you can’t help but feel unsettled and horrified.
The second episode mostly examines both Allen and Farrow’s upbringing and career, wherein they made thirteen films together, and how Allen became a father figure to Farrow’s children from previous marriages as well as their shared children. Underneath all the success and achievements, there was something that the public eye wasn’t supposed to see and we as viewers can’t really comment on as we weren’t there in person. In a time where Weinstein’s and Spacey’s get accused for sexual – and power abuse, Dylan has been speaking up about what happened to her ever since it actually happened, which later on in the series turns the investigate documentary style series into a full blown true crime thriller.
It’s through taped phone calls, examining some of Allen’s suggestive story telling, and numerous testimonies, that we can no longer deny the facts that are presented to us, often having an infuriating effect when we get confronted with the media’s influence on the narrative, where toxic fandoms become full-fledged truth-deniers. The investigation goes deep and spreads over two different states that can’t agree on what’s true or false when it comes to this girl’s truth. Not only did Woody use his power to attract and exploit the press by proving a point, “Mama Mia” gets labeled as an unfit mother, while legal documents were being sanitized behind her back or downright destroyed, making it all the more plausible there was more going on than we actually know. Surely the documentary series leans towards Farrow’s side of the story, but isn’t bias whatsoever when we later find out how Woody, Soon-Yi, and even Farrow’s son Moses (who at first backed Dylan, yet later accused Mia for brainwashing her children) were asked to give their statements, but decided not to, making it all the more difficult to paint a full picture.
The evaluation of the proof and testimonies is too precise to be ignored. Allen v. Farrow is a meticulously pieced together series of footage and interviews, leaving little to the imagination in the fight for justice. This isn’t just terrific journalism, this is the (hopefully) final and defining statement of a little girl that persevered.
Allen v. Farrow will be released on HBO Max, February 21.
Review – ‘Allen v. Farrow’
Reviewed online (screener provided by HBO), February 19, 2021. Rating: TBC. Running time: 4 x 60 min.
PRODUCTION: (USA) A HBO Max release of a Artemis Rising Foundation, Chicago Media Project, HBO Documentary Films, Impact Partners, Jane Doe Films, The Lozen Foundation production. Producer: Amy Herdy, Jamie Rogers. Executive producers: Nancy Abraham, Maiken Baird, Dan Cogan, Ian Darling, Kirby Dick, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Paula Froehle, Tara Lyn Guber, Jo Haskin, Lisa Heller, Debbie McLeod, Jenny Raskin, Regina K. Scully, Amy Ziering.
CREW: Directors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering. Music: Michael Abels.