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(For its 31st edition, the SXSW Film & TV Festival will host nine days of screenings from March 8-16, 2024. Check out Chris Reed’s An Army of Women movie review. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Sexual assault is terrible enough to endure on its own without the trauma that follows when police detectives refuse to believe you and prosecutors abstain from pursuing a case against your attacker. Unfortunately, all too often that is exactly what happens, leaving survivors with additional pain and suffering on top of the initial anguish. In her debut feature documentary, An Army of Women, director/cinematographer Julie Lunde Lillesæter delivers an inspiring portrait of women in Austin, Texas, who refuse to accept that this is the way of things, fighting back through legal means to force change.

Jennifer Ecklund and Elizabeth Myers are the lawyers hired by the plaintiffs to launch class-action suits against both the Austin Police Department and Travis County District Attorney’s office, headed up since 2017 by Margaret Moore. We meet many women in this “army,” among them Marina Garrett, Hanna Senko, and one “Amy Smith,” who for much of the movie goes by a pseudonym to shield herself from further scrutiny. Little by little, with many setbacks along the way, they get closer (maybe?) to some kind of resolution.

Lillesæter makes time for everyone’s personal stories, as much as each person is willing to share, while also following the progress of the litigation. Ecklund and Myers are not only partners in work, but life, as well, and so there is that additional narrative, too. In a film that focuses so much on sadness and anger, there is also a lot of joy and love.

One might be surprised at the unsympathetic actions of D.A. Moore and her cohorts—she wasn’t on the job, after all, when the majority of these case unfolded—as she remains steadfast in her refusal to even settle. Instead, her office manages, at least at first, to have the suit dismissed. Do not count our protagonists out, though. Let the movie’s title give you hope that victory could one day be at hand.

If you can’t beat them in court, try the ballot box, and as anyone who lives in the Austin area can tell you, Margaret Moore is no longer the D.A. She was defeated in 2020 by José Garza, who here runs on a platform that addresses these women’s concerns. Once in office, however, will he follow through?

It’s a thoroughly engaging, sometimes dispiriting, ultimately rousing look at what can occur when one refuses to take “no” for an answer. The question remains as to why “yes” was so rarely the first response. What is it in our society that leads us to view rape victims with skepticism? You’ll have to ponder that on your own—we learn here that 99% of rapists walk free!—but An Army of Women shows that the conclusion to the problem need not be preordained. Winning just takes time.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2024 SXSW Film Festival; Julie Lunde Lillesæter; An Army of Women

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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