After putting music mogul Russell Simmons in checkmate with their documentary On the Record, which drew plenty of controversy prior to its 2019 Sundance premiere with Apple and producer Oprah Winfrey subtracting themselves from the project, Oscar-nominated filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick set their sights on Woody Allen and the long-standing sexual child abuse accusations made against the Oscar-winning auteur by daughter Dylan Farrow and former partner Mia Farrow in the four-part HBO docuseries Allen v. Farrow which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday.
The documentary already has been criticized for being one-sided, but Ziering and Dick explain their reasoning below. Despite reaching out to Allen as well as Soon-Yi Previn — his wife and Farrow’s adopted daughter — the filmmakers explain that Allen v. Farrow is about giving a voice to Dylan and Mia Farrow, whose side, as they claim, has been mowed down repeatedly by the Allen PR machine for the past 30 years. The docu investigates how the once-press-shy Allen got in front of the Soon-Yi Previn-Dylan Farrow scandal in the early ‘0s, and was able to boldly transmit his narrative through press conferences and granting big interviews, i.e. with 60 Minutes. Allen v. Farrow is a chilling reminder of how celebrity power and wealth can make puppets of the justice system, not unlike the impact of such titans as Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein.
Also missing from the documentary is the voice of Mia Farrow’s adopted son Moses, who is a therapist and wrote a scathing, 4,600-word essay in May 2018 defending Allen against sexual assault allegations and describing “a deep and persistent darkness within the Farrow family” that involved abuse from his own mother. Ziering and Dick also reached out to Moses, who opted not to be part of the docuseries. Allen’s side is voiced in the film by the audiobook of his recent autobiography Apropos of Nothing, in which the four-time Oscar winner defends himself.
The docuseries serves up unheard phone calls between Mia Farrow and Allen, who taped each other during their fight, as well as the video that Mia took of Dylan as a child in which she details how Allen molested her. It’s that video that long has sparked controversy; Allen’s defense contends that the child was coached by the mother, specifically following his affair with Soon-Yi.
That said, the docuseries’ juiciest bits are how it fractures Allen’s longtime shields: a Yale New Haven Hospital Sexual Abuse Clinic report that cleared Allen of harm, as well as how the NYC Child Welfare Administration’s examination turned extremely political, and in the filmmaker’s favor. The Yale New Haven report interviewed Dylan nine times, ruling that she couldn’t “distinguish fantasy from reality”.
Below is our intriguing conversation with Ziering and Dick:
DEADLINE: Before you locked print, and given that you didn’t get access to Woody Allen, Moses or Soon-Yi, was there ever any concern that the docuseries would be perceived as one-sided?
AMY ZIERING: Well, I think you have to look at the whole conceit of sides. I mean, honestly. What’s interesting or strange about that to me is I look at it as what we did was an investigation and we sought the truth and we’re presenting the truth in an accurate presentation of events. Whenever we get into this discussion of sides, it’s always very strange or peculiar to me, because it’s a new event that’s happened in recent decades that really wasn’t that prevalent back in the ’70s or ’80s, and I think it’s a relic — actually a legacy of Fox News, which always, of course, the irony was there. They’re fair and balanced, which it was anything but.
What you do when you say we need “sides” is you go everything is all about opinion. There’s no fact or truth. That’s what happens when you say there’s sides to an argument. It’s like climate change. If we’re going to talk about climate change, we have to get someone who has the other side of it. No, climate change is an empirical fact. We don’t really need to hear from a climate change denier because they’re talking out of motives of profit and interest. Exactly.
So, why am I telling you this whole backstory? Because whenever you go to criminal cases or cases where people are charged and they say you need to hear both sides, would it be in the person’s interest who actually did something to talk? Would they be telling you the truth if they talked? Is their side “a side,” or is it a defense? So what I’m trying to say is we did our due diligence. … Woody has put out this side, which we looked at carefully and interrogated and investigated and attempted to corroborate, and we are presenting a solid case of facts for the public to now look at that they were not ever presented before. So that’s how I look at it. I don’t like to look at this or think of it as we’re taking sides or we’re explaining one side of it. We’re explaining what happened, and it’s right all there in front of you, and we’re showing you the witnesses and the corroboration.
I guess that’s what bothers me. I’m trying to say it another way. If it were any kind of other kind of crime, if you’re in a car accident you don’t say, “I really want to hear the side from the driver that hit you.” You say, “Oh, you were hit by a car.” You wouldn’t question it or think about it or go, ‘Oh, my God, there’s a problem here. You did a story about a car accident and you didn’t really talk to the car driver.” It’s just always peculiar to me. There’s an immense amount of corroboration, testimony, eyewitness accounts, etc., and yet people are all around talking about you didn’t really hear a different side. I guess that’s my long answer.
KIRBY DICK: That was very well-stated. I just want to add that we do have Woody’s perspective all the way throughout these theories. He wrote extensively about it in his memoir Apropos of Nothing and then of course recorded it in an audiobook, and he talks about everything … so much of what the series covers over the four episodes; his voice is in many, many times in each episode talking about the issues that we’re covering. So you hear directly from Woody Allen and his perspective on this all the way throughout the series.
ZIERING: You’ve heard it for decades. You’ve heard it in an echo chamber, right? I mean, we show that. All the footage was his narrative, which was amplified and echoed as an item by the media, by his PR campaign and by all the ways that his work was continued to be anointed and supported. I think what’s curious to me is we welcomed it. Another thing that bothers me about these questions, too, is I have no dog in this race. I don’t care. I have no vested interest in making up something about Woody Allen. I’ve got better things to do with my time. I’m not just interested in showing a side. I’m interested in investigating and showing the truth. So if this is the presentation of the story, make of it what you will, but it’s the story of what happened.
DEADLINE: There’s something chilling that Woody Allen says to Mia Farrow on the phone, ‘It’s not about the truth, it’s what is to be believed.’ What are your thoughts on that?
ZIERING: I think that says everything.
DICK: Yeah. Exactly. I think that’s a good point. You hear his words also in the telephone conversations, and as you pointed out, I mean, I think what he’s telling her there is … this is my impression of that: It seems to be what he’s saying in so many words is that “I have a lot of — I’m a powerful person with a lot of assets and I can put out a very powerful message from my side whether or not it’s the truth. I can put it out so that people believe it.” It read to me as a threat, and I think that kind of threat is chilling to journalists, of course, as it should be. But it really is chilling to our entire public, and that’s one of the reasons we actually made this series because we wanted to examine the power of celebrity and how celebrity can, at times, control the media.
I mean, I think obviously celebrity culture and celebrity has become more and more a factor in our society over the last several decades. And looking back to this case, this case is sort of in some ways where the power of celebrity was played out 30 years ago. So in some ways this is an early example of what we’ve become as a culture.
ZIERING: I guess I would pull that back. That quote that you just pulled is really a good point we were just talking about, and I would just invert it and say for me it matters what the truth is. It doesn’t matter what’s believed. So that goes back to our one side/both sides conversation. We’re presenting the truth, and we’re showing you what everybody believed. You can come back and say, “I want to hear from the mythmaker side one more time,” you can, but I don’t serve mythmakers.
DEADLINE: Your investigator Amy Herdy was the catalyst for this docuseries. What was the new evidence out there that she discovered since most of this was the in public light? Was it the Yale New Haven report? Was it the fact that the notes of that investigation were shredded? Or was it the fact that Dylan and Mia Farrow were ready to come forward with the tape where the former as a young child describes being molested by Woody Allen?
DICK: Well, it was really kind of all of the above. I mean, that’s one of the things that was really incredible about making this series and working with Amy Herdy, who’s the producer who led the investigation. She’s much more than an investigator. She kept coming across new information, new documents, new evidence that investigation had been covered up as well as, of course, you said the tape, the home movies, the telephone calls. I mean, it became just this kind of cornucopia of material, of evidence that we kept acquiring. Actually, it was a three-year investigation and we kept acquiring that. So much had been written about this case by so many journalists who didn’t have access to all this because, again, Woody Allen controlled it. I mean, he didn’t control the access to it, but what the journalists got is more or less what he put out.
So, as Amy said, this was a way to get to the truth. Once you get to the underlying documents and the underlying evidence, the story shifts dramatically.
[EDITORS’S NOTE: Following our conversation, Ziering and Dick confirmed that the court documents combed over in the docuseries previously had been sealed.]
DEADLINE: The theme of the docuseries is that money and power can thwart justice. The Yale New Haven Clinic Study, which was commissioned by Connecticut state prosecutor Frank Maco, all of a sudden goes sideways and in Woody’s favor. Do we ever know why? Woody bigfoots the whole press conference.
DICK: We don’t.
ZIERING: No, we don’t. I mean, we have our own guesses.
DICK: We don’t know why. What we wanted to do is take a much closer look at their process of coming to their conclusion and some of the procedures that they followed and really examined them and examined them critically because they deserve to be examined in that way. We don’t know why. I mean it’s a question we can’t answer.
DEADLINE: It’s been reported that those who commit child abuse, it’s never just one singular incident. There’s more than one instance. Was Allen’s case unique? Was there ever any evidence to suggest that he abused other children in the Farrow family?
DICK: It’s interesting because the question you asked we ask sort of in a different way. Initially, I know I did. It’s like, oftentimes, people who abuse, abuse multiple people and so we thought if Woody Allen has only abused Dylan, is this unusual? Does this cause us to raise questions? What we found out in talking to experts is, no, actually it’s not uncommon that only one child is abused by an abuser. I can pass it to you, Amy, if you want to go into a little more detail on that.
ZIERING: Yeah, we looked into that. Actually, it is not atypical for a parent to only choose one child. There’s advantages to that. Often predators, because we talked to a predator expert, they only have a certain thing or type that they like, so they’re simply not interested in the other children and that is not anomalous. Also, they often single out one young child because that way it’s a clever way to protect them because that child — there can’t be multiple corroborations effectively. If you isolate them, it’s easier to say this kid’s making this up and none of the other children have an experience that correlates, so they’re more likely to believe the predator than the child.
DEADLINE: How did you get Dylan and Ronan aboard? I understand that Ronan was hesitant about Dylan doing the documentary. How did she finally come around?
ZIERING: I just want to also make it clear, this wasn’t something about getting anybody aboard. We were doing this and we were just interested in speaking to whomever would speak with us. So it wasn’t like we were just pursuing the Farrows. We were pursuing it, so we were pursuing the prosecutors, the social workers. We were pursuing experts. I mean, we were very interested in this. So we were interested in sort of reinvestigating this case, and in the course of which, we of course did our due diligence and reached out to everyone involved with it, as you would imagine — the Farrows as well — and all of them were resoundingly reluctant and flat-out “No” from most to Amy Herdy. Amy Herdy was the first point of reach.
We just first did an interview with Dylan, and she was caustic and we weren’t, at that time, even doing this project, per se. We were sort of pushing multiple projects. So I’m just trying to say that once we sort of got more invested and were producing more interesting and novel angles to this and seeing these things that surprised us, Amy kept going back to the family and showing them sort of the rigorous work we were doing, which they were surprised by and impressed by because no one else had really bothered to take the time. They also watched our other films and saw that we are serious, we are thorough, we are thoughtful, we are balanced. We don’t have an agenda or bias — which, of course, they were frightened about, given everything that has been with the media.
So it was a different step with each person, but Dylan first agreed to one interview and then that was it. Then after quite a long time, Mia agreed to an interview only because Dylan asked her. She really did not want to do it otherwise. Same with Ronan. Ronan was extremely reluctant throughout and skeptical but then finally agreed when he sort of saw the integrity of the investigative work we were doing and felt that it would be an honest and truthful representation of facts.
DICK: Just to clarify, by showing, Amy means letting them know the additional information that we were coming across in our investigation, so FYI. But otherwise, Amy’s representation, that’s well-said.
DEADLINE: Ronan brings something up which goes back to your point about “mythmakers” in the fight between Allen and Farrow. This goes back to Moses’ essay. He’s a therapist. Ronan brings up that there was a contingency on his college, that if he took Woody’s side, that he would get college funding and be guaranteed a good life.
ZIERING: I was astonished when he said that in an interview, correct.
DEADLINE: Did Ronan reap some of those benefits to a certain degree? Or was there a turning point where he flat-out said no to Woody from the start — “I’m fine, Mom’s got this covered”?
ZIERING: You’d have to ask Ronan. I don’t want to answer for Ronan. From what we understood in the course of the interview, Ronan was sort of shocked by that proposition and just didn’t even entertain it. It wasn’t like, “I’m good, maybe I’ll take it if I need some cash.” It was like, “No, absolutely not. I can’t even relate to that request. I don’t even know how to process that.” But that’s more aligned to what Ronan was telling us.
DEADLINE: Moses wrote a very long essay and was very pointed. Then the family paints him as being wrong, as well as Soon-Yi. Is the implication that Moses reaped the benefits of Dad and therefore that’s the side he’s on, period?
ZIERING: We don’t know. All we know is when we’re leaving all this research we do know from interviewing family members and looking at letters and cards and things that Moses had written that he was extremely close to the family for a very, very, very long time and then only dropped out much, much later. Even at the time of the incident, he had talked to press, and I think you see in the film he wrote that letter to Woody and he had spoken to press about how she’s a loving mother. I think Dylan was a bridesmaid at his wedding and the whole family was very close and then they weren’t.
So, there were decades … I don’t want to say that. What is it, Kirby? Were there decades?
DICK: There were decades.
ZIERING: There were decades of time, where Moses was very close with his mother, very close with his siblings, very much a part of the family, and then it shifted much, much later and radically shifted. And that is when he came forward with a complete new narrative about his past. So make of that what you will.
DEADLINE: Now, Connecticut state prosecutor Frank Maco backed away from the case because he didn’t want to put Dylan through this grueling process of being on the witness stand as a child. In hindsight, does he have any regrets about this? Because the situation that ensues is that legally Allen gets away. However, decades later, Dylan is still hurt by this. It’s very hard to question her point of view, meaning that she was staged or coached by Mia. And yet the prosecutor let this case go. Again, he had good intentions for her as a kid, but in hindsight was there a big mistake made here? I mean, celebrity and power reigned in the end, unfortunately.
DICK: I think he still feels like he made the right decision. I mean, this is an evaluation that he has to make and when you have a vulnerable child who’s already gone through a lot and you can see the effect of it today even. I think he was experienced enough to know how much more harm this could potentially cause to her, and he just really didn’t want to put her through that. He still stands by that decision today, even though he’s really troubled by it because he felt very confident he had a strong case. But ultimately, he had to put the interest of the child first in this case, and it was a tough decision to make. That’s one of the kind of dramatic moments in the series is when he gets back together with Dylan after nearly 30 years. I mean, you can still see that decision haunts him even though he felt like he made the right decision.
DEADLINE: Coming away from this docuseries are both of you left with more questions about Allen v. Farrow, or do you think without a shadow of a doubt Allen is guilty?
DICK: I think people have to watch and kind of make up their own mind. I mean, we think that the weight of evidence is very, very strong in Dylan’s favor. I mean, that’s what struck us is there was so much evidence, so much evidence that hadn’t come out, so much evidence that had been covered up. It’s that when you have the weight of evidence, there’s a very, very strong case for the way Dylan portrays things. Again, that same evidence is the evidence that the prosecutor saw and that’s why the prosecutor felt like he also had a strong case. Again, that’s one of the reasons we made the series was that that evidence has never gotten out and it has never been clearly laid out because Woody Allen was so effective at even if little pieces of evidence dribbled out here and there, of creating this spin machine that sort of even if it was in the public it was obscured and the public became confused.
So yes, the weight of evidence strongly supports Dylan’s perspective.
DEADLINE: Can Dylan pursue anything legally against Woody?
ZIERING: I don’t know. You should research that.
DEADLINE: We’re going through a great degree of cancel culture right now. Is this a good thing now that people aren’t judged by due process and that the cacophony of headlines and social media ends people’s careers and lives?
ZIERING: Well, that’s like saying, “When did you last beat your wife?” I mean, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Is it really the cacophony and jury-by-mob, or are there any fact-based things that lead people to alter their perspective on people? I mean, I think all of these catchy little phrases like “cancel culture” is also like … again, back to that two-sides thing. You’re caught in that really canny trap of having these words end up actually being really in the service of regressive politics. I mean, I don’t even want to take the bait and answer that kind of a question because it’s just the law is so much truth. Cancel culture is correction culture. It’s maybe we lived in a culture that was permission culture or blind culture or oppression culture and maybe that culture needs to be canceled or called into question.
So if you start calling things into question, are you really canceling them? If you start not giving hall passes to predators, is that canceling? I don’t think the mob — or whatever is now being pejoratively referred to as a mob — I don’t think people speaking up against oppression and then people going, “Oh, maybe I don’t want to economically support this oppressor, especially when the people speaking up do have fair cases, do have evidence, do have valid claims.” I just think it’s a slippery slope of them saying due process isn’t being served.
The last thing I’ll say about that, let’s talk about who due process has served. What is the statistic, Kirby? How many children are sent back to their fathers because of our misogynistic criminal justice system — fathers who assault them. I mean, that’s a fact.
DICK: There’s a significant percentage.
ZIERING: So let’s talk about this due process you guys are all so concerned about. Let’s talk about the incarceration of Black people. Where is their due process? Everyone’s going to be up in arms about cancel culture? Like that ideologically biased system that’s really serving justice? You just have to look at these things a little more carefully to not flash around these glib assessments and glib analyses that really just are creepy, frankly.
DICK: Let, me add, who’s story wasn’t heard here?
ZIERING: Are you crying about Dylan’s?
DICK: This is one of the things that was so important about #MeToo, that it wasn’t only the people coming forward. It was the support that was offered for them because it is so hard for any survivor to come forward, no matter who they are. What had happened particularly before #MeToo is they would come forward individually and there wouldn’t be support. It would be very devastating even if they continued to come forward. Other survivors would look at that and say, “Oh, no, I’m not going to go through that.” So the fact that Dylan came forward and then was supported by other people in the industry, that is a good thing. That is a good thing. That’s courageous for her to come forward, and it’s courageous for them to stand by a survivor because they’re supporting someone who traditionally is. It’s traditionally people who are in power who are silencing people who come forward and so they’re supporting the little person, the person without power. That is a good thing.
ZIERING: Is there outrage that Mia was canceled? I mean, where is that outrage? Post-Woody, for three decades she was canceled in the culture. She was crazy. She didn’t get any jobs, was vindictive. I don’t hear anyone saying that there was no due process for Mia. What we did for three decades, we canceled her. There was glee, and now white guys are getting called out and suddenly cancel culture. F*ck that. What on Earth?!
DEADLINE: Social media is a dangerous thing. There is no nuance. There is no syntax. I’m not saying let’s do away with free speech, but runaway freight trains often can occur.
ZIERING: When you say that social media’s run amok, I also want to point out, and our series is really about the way the mass media ran amok, too. Fox News is a good example. You think you’re getting the whole story, but you’re actually getting a really controlled narrative. I think there’s pluses and minuses to social media. I do agree that we’re viral creatures and then that’s a problem because if the wrong message gets amplified, as we’ve seen with QAnon; it’s extremely dangerous. But I also think that it’s naïve to think that mass media didn’t have its own problems in sort of, as we saw, as the Woody case exemplifies. Not in most cases. I don’t want to seem like — but in some cases as well its own biases had a certain toxicity.
DICK: If you want to go even broader from the media to our entire society. I mean, one of the things, again, that #MeToo showed is that there were these predators in power for decades preying on [people], and society did nothing. I mean, who’s getting canceled there? I mean, literally millions of men and women who are more vulnerable, their careers are stopped even before they started. I mean, that was one of the central themes of On the Record is that Drew Dixon was this brilliant executive whose career was destroyed because of what happened to her. So maybe there’s a few people who you can have a debate about who are being discussed on social media. But the much more important issue here are the millions of people who the predators are destroying their lives and destroying their careers — literally destroying their careers to such an extent that they don’t even have an opportunity to have a career.