Day 6

How Allen v. Farrow's co-director convinced Mia and Dylan to go on camera

While Woody Allen has had a media megaphone for years, Allen v. Farrow tells the story the public never heard, says co-director Amy Ziering.

New documentary series explores how Woody Allen leveraged his image and influence against the allegations

The actor Mia Farrow pictured here with her children Ronan and Dylan Farrow. (HBO/Crave)

When Mia Farrow showed up for her first on-camera interview with Allen v. Farrow co-director Amy Ziering, the filmmaker saw warning signs. 

"This is an actress. She knows the drill and she shows up in a black ratty sweatshirt," she said in an interview on Day 6. 

Ziering says the wardrobe choice was a signal that Mia Farrow, the adoptive mother of Dylan Farrow, was unhappy and scared. 

The documentary series Allen v. Farrow is a departure for the co-directing team of Ziering and Kirby Dick. The pair have previously explored sexual assault inside the military and college campuses. The new four-part series focuses on the allegations that film director Woody Allen sexually assaulted Mia's adopted daughter Dylan when she was seven years old. 

Allen has consistently denied all charges, and the case and accompanying court trials have played out in the media for years. 

But as Ziering and Dick read police reports and interviewed family friends, they began to feel the public hadn't heard the full story. Ziering says it took a very long time for their lead investigative producer Amy Herdy to gain the trust of Dylan and her mother Mia.

"They were, as you can imagine, extremely trepidatious. They have been excoriated in the press," she said.

Ziering says even as Dylan and Mia agreed to work with the filmmakers, there was still an element of distrust but they went on camera because they felt their story could serve a greater purpose. It was Dylan who finally convinced her mother to participate, in order to correct the public record, she adds.

So on that day of the first shoot, when Ziering saw Mia Farrow stepping into her first in-depth interview wearing a black sweatshirt, she interpreted it as a signal of Mia's reluctance — but she knew she had to do something. 

Ziering did what filmmakers do and improvised. She offered Mia Farrow the silk blouse she was wearing, and borrowed a t-shirt from the crew for herself.  

Regardless of Mia Farrow's initial misgivings, Ziering still commends her courage.  

"I don't know if i would have been able to have the strength to do what she did," Ziering said.

Mia Farrow appears in her first substantial on-camera interview in Allen v. Farrow, wearing co-director Amy Ziering's blouse, to discuss the allegations against her former partner. (HBO/Crave)

Allen 'had a megaphone'

Ahead of its debut, the series was criticized for being one sided and dismissing the perspectives of Allen's wife — and Mia's daughter — Soon-Yi Previn, and Mia Farrow's adopted son Moses Farrow who has accused Mia of abuse. 

But Ziering says they made a conscious decision to tell the side of the story that hadn't been heard before, as opposed to Allen's point of view. 

"He had the microphone and the media amplified it, so he had a megaphone," she told Day 6.

The filmmakers say they did approach Allen when the project first began and more recently. Allen and Previn released a joint statement on Feb. 21, describing the series as a "hatchet job riddled with falsehoods," adding "while this shoddy hit piece may gain attention, it does not change the facts." 

But Ziering says Allen v. Farrow is bigger than one family. 

"It actually raises larger questions about how to treat incest in the culture. It's the third rail no one wants to look at." 

Woody Allen and wife Soon-Yi Previn attending an event in 2016. Following the release of the documentary Previn and Allen released a statement describing the series as a "hatchet job riddled with falsehoods." (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Treatment of women in the press changing, says Ziering

The series also chronicles how Allen defended himself, in part Ziering says, by playing the role of Woody Allen. 

"[The character] he was playing was incredibly charming, bumbling, witty and urbane, so you would immediately identify with him." 

Allen v. Farrow suggests the public conflated the movie version of Allen with the person he was in private, which Ziering says he used to escape greater scrutiny. 

"He's a great screenwriter, so he rewrote the narrative really quickly and everybody just lapped it up."

While the series points out how Allen molded the media message — framing Mia Farrow as a bad mother — there are signs the industry is changing. The response to the recently released Framing Britney Spears documentary suggests a greater awareness and sensitivity to the way women are treated in the press

Asked whether the situation is improving, Ziering says, "I hope so. I know that we're getting better at recognizing this." 

She says with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, there's a democracy of voices and the media is less homogenous. 

"A lot of what we let slip by and took as, kind of, OK ... I don't think it would fly anymore today."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eli Glasner

Senior entertainment reporter

Eli Glasner is the senior entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee Ontario to the Oscars red carpet and beyond.  

Produced by Mouhamad Rachini.

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