‘Allen v. Farrow’ Directors On Tracking A Hollywood Family’s Tragedy

Aug. 4, 1992: the day Dylan Farrow’s life was forever changed.

The then 7-year-old was visiting with her adoptive father, Woody Allen, at the Connecticut country home of his ex and her mother, Mia Farrow, when she alleges he took her up to the attic and sexually molested her.

The tragic event is dissected in the four-part HBO special “Allen v. Farrow,” which debuted Sunday night. Directed by “The Hunting Ground” and “On the Record” filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the docuseries features in-depth interviews with Dylan, Mia, Ronan Farrow and other relatives, investigators and witnesses, who recount the details surrounding the damning allegations. Although Allen, who continues to deny Dylan’s claims of abuse, does not take part in the project, his acclaimed body of work and relationship with Mia Farrow is heavily documented and analyzed.

“Allen v. Farrow” presents a strong case against the Oscar-winning director. Home-video footage, as well as court documents, police evidence and never-before-heard audio tapes paint a picture of a man who silenced his adolescent victim and used his power and standing in Hollywood to manipulate his way out of facing real consequences.

“It’s really hard to believe that somebody you respect and, for me, somebody who you love deeply, love so much, could be capable of doing something so awful to a child,” Mia Farrow says in Episode 2 of the doc, following footage of a young Dylan detailing Allen’s behavior. “You have one job. That is to stand by your child and keep her safe.”

At the time of the alleged incident, Mia had nine other children ― her three biological sons with second husband André Previn: Matthew, Sascha and Fletcher; adopted children Soon-Yi, Lark, Daisy, Moses and Tam; and her biological son with Allen, Ronan. (She later adopted four more kids ― Thaddeus, Frankie-Minh, Isaiah and Kaeli-Shea.) A few months before the abuse case erupted, Allen had admitted to having a sexual relationship with Farrow’s 21-year-old daughter Soon-Yi, whom he eventually married in 1997.

“Allen v. Farrow” covers that affair, as well as the trauma and backlash that followed the Farrow family for years, most recently after Dylan re-shared her story in a 2014 New York Times essay and again amid the Me Too reckoning.

In this interview, Dick and Ziering discuss working with investigative producer Amy Herdy to earn the trust of Dylan Farrow and charting the controversial legacy of Allen.

Dylan Farrow in "Allen v. Farrow." 

Dylan Farrow in “Allen v. Farrow.” 

As filmmakers, you have released incredible documentaries focusing on victims and survivors of sexual assault. Tell me why it’s important for you to choose these stories to put out into the world.

Amy Ziering: Our life’s work has kind of happened very organically. I don’t really feel like we chose it so much as the stories chose us, honestly. “Invisible War” happened in that way. We just read an article online about some women who had reported their experiences in the military and we started investigating and exploring it. We had a surprisingly successful release and response when we started showing that film on campuses and students started coming up to us and saying, “Come see what’s going on here at Bowdoin or Harvard or USC.” So we started working on “The Hunting Ground.” Once that came out, our cellphones exploded and people were like, “You guys should be out there collecting Me Too stories.”

And that’s sort of how this project happened. We weren’t intending to look at the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow story, but we were casting a wide net and talking to many people who, in the wake of Me Too, had come out and spoken. And Amy Herdy, our amazing investigative producer, got us an interview with Dylan Farrow. Watching the interview, we looked at each other and were like, “Oh, my. There’s so much more to this story that we never knew.”

When Dylan re-shared her story in 2017, it was right during the Me Too reckoning, and more people started questioning what actually goes on behind closed doors in Hollywood and how some people are able to escape consequences.

Kirby Dick: Well, yes. One of the things that I think is really important about this story is that the Woody Allen case is the most high-profile incest case in this country in the last 50 years. It has really influenced the way the media has covered this and it’s influenced the way that the public has looked at this. And by examining this case and all the misperceptions around it and the spin that Woody Allen was able to generate around it, we thought this would help audiences understand more what the truth is.

What else about this story struck you and made you want to make a docuseries?

Dick: First of all, I actually was reluctant to [take this on] because I thought it had been extensively covered. I sort of mistakenly thought that most of the story had been made public. And so once we started realizing that there was so much more information that wasn’t out there and there were cover-ups that prevented the information from coming out, that created a sort of urgency around this. People have looked at this story one way for 30 years. The public has had only the tip of the iceberg of the information around it.

Ziering: And also, we weren’t just motivated to tell this particular story, but it is a prism in a way and a lens to look at bigger issues in society at large: incest, misogyny, the criminal justice system. This is a family story and a family tragedy, but sort of analogous to the O.J. Simpson case, it does say so much more about our culture.

Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen and Ronan Farrow.

Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen and Ronan Farrow.

The public has never been given this much access to Dylan Farrow and her story, memories, home videos. I imagine it was hard earning her trust. Can you talk about the process of meeting Dylan?

Ziering: I think it’s important to say it was hard earning any of their trust. I mean, people close to the story had never really been given a fair platform in the media. And not only not fair, but the family mostly had been presented in only one way over and over and over again, and in a way that elided the facts and the truth. And so they all were extremely trepidatious, it wasn’t just Dylan.

We were fortunate enough that, after a lot of hesitation, Dylan said yes. And I think part of that yes came from our former body of work that people can look at and say, “OK, these people don’t have an agenda. They don’t have a bias. They approach things with a lot of integrity. And they’re not sensational.” I think that helped her get emotionally comfortable in talking with us.

Did you find it was similar process with Mia Farrow? Due to aforementioned misogyny and just Woody’s power at that time, Mia was viewed as “a woman scorned.” She lost her career as he ascended. I imagine going back and reliving this was not easy for her.

Ziering: No. Mia only did this because Dylan implored her to speak and just said, “Can you back me up, Mom?” It was not something that Mia had any desire to do. Mia wanted to stand by her child and not let her down. She was severely traumatized by this and she felt severely trepidatious about speaking to anyone part of media because she’s been treated so unfairly by them for so long.

How did you approach Woody Allen? Did you have any communication with him, or did he just shut down every reach-out?

Dick: Amy Herdy reached out to him multiple times in multiple ways. Obviously we would have loved to have an interview with him so that he could say, on camera, what his perspective is on these last three decades. And likewise with Soon-Yi. We were hopeful, but we didn’t expect Woody Allen to say yes. He very rarely says yes to any interview, even interviews just about his films, so it wasn’t a surprise that he didn’t agree to do an interview.

But it’s important to realize that we actually have his voice and perspective because he spoke about this extensively in his [2020] memoir, “Apropos of Nothing,” and then made an audiobook of it. So you hear Woody’s voice talking about when he and Mia first met, when they dated, how they decided to adopt Dylan, all the way through to all the events that follow, not only in the ’90s, but even up to the present. And so he’s very much a presence and a voice and a figure throughout this series.

That audiobook was probably a mini treasure trove for you as directors. 

Ziering: Kirby was very happy. That was fortunate.

Mia Farrow in "Allen v. Farrow."

Mia Farrow in “Allen v. Farrow.”

Then you have the home video footage. Like you said earlier, it’s going to change a lot of people’s minds about what they thought they knew.

Ziering: We got very lucky that Mia just happened to be a phenomenal photographer with a beautiful eye … before there were cellphones and iPhones. She had a big old, one of the early kind of cameras and was filming her family. What we love about that is you don’t have to believe what people say, just look for yourself. If you watch the footage, you really do see how it was this incredibly loving family, how the adults did really operate and function for all intents and purposes as parents despite any portraits to the contrary, how integral both Mia and Woody were in all of the children’s lives, how young they were when he came into all of their lives and how much of a father figure he was throughout their lives. You see that firsthand. It’s all thanks to Mia having had this incredible hobby and saving all this footage. She was willing to let us look at it and then give us permission to use some of it in our series.

You see the beautiful side of the family, but you also see footage of Woody’s strange behavior around Dylan. She, and the whole family, mentions that he would hover. He felt he always needed to be near her. When you guys started to uncover this footage and listen to interviews, did any of it surprise you at all?

Ziering: Oh, 100%. Everything surprised us. It was shocking.

Dick: Yeah. I mean, again, what was out in the media was the fact that this accusation about inappropriate sexual behavior only happened once. In fact, there were people witnessing inappropriate sexual behavior over many years. And he went into therapy in part because of that, long before this incident in the attic. This is one of the things that I think is very striking about the first episode is just the psychological experience of Mia. You are with her step by step as she first views this kind of interaction and behavior between Woody and Dylan as really loving and then it just starts to turn and she can’t accept that. Episode 1 is just kind of a gripping, chilling, psychological horror story.

I don’t want to say it feels one-sided as other critics have, but the docuseries does really give you the Farrow side of the story. I think people are going to change their minds a bit on Woody Allen and what his innocence is.

Ziering: I don’t think it gives you the Farrow side of the story. I think it gives you the story. A definitely treacherous thing that’s happened in our public discourse is the belief that every story has multiple sides, and an analogy I give is climate change. 100% of scientists say that climate change is 100% happening, but people with vested interests in saying it isn’t real, because they profit from that myth, present the case that it isn’t real. And then every news show has to have someone who says there’s climate change and someone who denies it. And likewise when crime happens, it isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of fact. And what the series reveals is you didn’t even hear one side of the story, you heard a spin. And a spin by someone who’s been accused of a crime.

We didn’t have an agenda or a bias. We just went forward ourselves and we would’ve been happy to find different results, but this is what we found. This was the story that was never told. This is the comprehensive story. This is a story told from Woody’s perspective in his book and Woody’s perspective in all his news conferences and from what our investigation yielded from eyewitnesses, from babysitters and nannies, from friends, close relatives, from Dylan and Mia and siblings. So that’s how I see it.

For sure. As investigative filmmakers, part of the fun or the intrigue of doing these projects is uncovering the truth. Did you have an “aha” moment in the editing suite when the pieces started falling together?

Dick: It never seems like everything just falls together. It’s always a great deal of digging work, but there were certainly a lot of aha moments, particularly, I think, learning about the work that Amy Herdy was doing and what she was coming up with. I think the most significant was to see how extensive the cover-up was of the investigation into this accusation, particularly the New York investigation, which, even now people are saying, “Well, it cleared him.” Well, it cleared him because the investigator, who fully believed Dylan and had an extensive range of evidence supporting her story, was shut down over and over and over again at multiple levels all the way through the New York administration and all the way up to the mayor’s office. And people just are completely unaware of that story. When people watch the series, it’ll be a real ride because the audience goes into this thinking they know the story and they come out and realize there’s so much more here.

Ziering: Everyone will be extremely surprised. There’s going to be private phone calls between Woody and Mia that were taped contemporaneously. They’re going to hear their own voices and what they were talking about at the time. It’s extraordinarily revelatory. And we do talk to more people about the nature of Woody’s relationship with Soon-Yi and how the siblings reacted to the news. It’s pretty intense.

“Allen v. Farrow” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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