Years before Times Up and #MeToo, filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick exposed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military and on college campuses with their documentaries “The Invisible War” (2012) and “The Hunting Ground” (2015). Now they’ve turned their investigative lens on the $400 billion medical device industry, exposing catastrophic failures that put patients’ lives at risk in “The Bleeding Edge.”
Telling the harrowing stories of patients permanently scarred by vaginal mesh implants, sickened by toxic levels of cobalt in their hip replacements and irrevocably damaged by the permanent birth control implant Essure, the film reveals how lack of oversight, lax regulations and profit-driven cover-ups can turn technology from lifesaving to deadly.
“We all believe, naively, that if a product is put in our body, it’s been tested,” Ziering told the Journal. “Predominately, it’s the industries themselves that are doing the testing and [saying that] the products are safe. It’s a world where the corporations are in charge, and they don’t have the most moral compass at heart.”
In 2015, Ziering and Dick set out to make a documentary about preventable medical errors in hospitals, “but it morphed into a medical device film,” Ziering said. Not surprisingly, the challenges were enormous.
“With a film about sexual assault, everyone has a familiarity or understanding, but with something like this, it’s a subject no one knows about,” Ziering said. “How do you take this really important, significant topic and make it cinematically compelling?”
Securing interviews was another challenge. “This is an immensely powerful industry with connections and ties that go in all directions, and they don’t fight fair,” Ziering said. “It’s scary for people to speak freely. We had a lot of people talk to us candidly off the record, but once they went on the record it was a different story.”
“We all believe, naively, that if a product is put in our body, it’s been tested. Predominately, it’s the industries themselves that are doing the testing and [saying that] the products are safe. It’s a world where the corporations are in charge and they don’t have the most moral compass at heart.” — Amy Ziering
Ziering earned a doctorate at Yale in comparative literature and decided to make a film about her mentor, French philosopher Jacques Derrida, instead of writing a paper. The film was well received and marked the beginning of her creative partnership with Kirby Dick, which has focused on telling stories with political, feminist and social justice themes.
“I’ve always been innately analytical and critical, and really incensed by injustice,” Ziering said. She traces her passion and motivation to her childhood with her philanthropist parents, Marilyn Ziering and the late Sigi Ziering. “They were always
interested in helping people. We learned that example from a very early age,” she said, adding that her father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor profoundly affected him.
“It was all about helping anyone
else afflicted or in need. I remember when he started his company, he made a
point of hiring refugees — boat people,
Russians. He was grateful that foreigners helped him and he had to give back by helping others who were fleeing oppression or hardship.”
Her family also took in the son of Iranian refugees. “He ended up living with us for four years until his parents could get out,” she said. “For [my parents], it was very much [about] tikkun olam, tzedakah. It was just part of their DNA. I absorbed a lot of that by example and osmosis.”
Ziering describes herself as “extremely Jewish, but not in the way the world recognizes it. I think I’m deeply religious but
not in a conventional way. Am I conventionally observant? No. But I think my films are observant.”
She and Dick are currently working on a feature about harassment and parity in the entertainment industry and have projects in development with NBC/Universal.
Ziering, who won an Emmy for “The Hunting Ground” and was nominated for an Oscar for “The Invisible War,” is proud of what the films accomplished in terms of increasing awareness and being catalysts for change. She hopes “The Bleeding Edge” has a similar effect, putting medical devices “in the public consciousness and the public discourse. This industry is enormous and it’s completely under the radar,” she said. “I hope that this promotes better legislation and better oversight.”
There has already been a major victory. On the eve of “The Bleeding Edge” release, Bayer removed Essure from the U.S. market, a de facto reversal of its stance on the effectiveness and safety of the birth control device.
Meanwhile, Ziering has advice for potential patients. “Be an informed consumer and ask a lot of questions. When you’re sick, you’re vulnerable and you want to trust, but you have to be careful,” she said. “Have your eyes wide open when you
deal with the medical industry. Buyer beware. Everyone knowing this and
exercising the appropriate caution and vigilance would be a huge leap forward in saving lives.”
“The Bleeding Edge” begins streaming on Netflix on July 27.