In a grainy home movie, a 7-year-old girl with tousled blond hair sits on a bed, talking to the person behind the camera. A time stamp indicates the date: Aug. 5, 1992.
"We went into your room and we went into the attic," says the girl, who is busy cutting paper with a pair of scissors. "Then he started telling me weird things. Then secretly he went into the attic" — she mumbles something inaudible — "went behind me and touched my privates." Her voice rises at the word "privates."
The girl is Dylan Farrow. The person operating the camcorder is her mother, actress Mia Farrow. And the man whose alleged abuse she is describing is her father, filmmaker Woody Allen.
Portions of the videotape, which has been known to exist and discussed in general terms for decades but never before seen by the public, appear in "Allen v. Farrow," an HBO docuseries from Oscar-nominated filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering that revisits one of the most emotionally charged and divisive scandals in Hollywood memory.
For decades — even after Dylan came forward as an adult in 2014 — the allegations against her father have been dismissed by many as an unfortunate but private family matter or, worse, a false memory implanted by a vindictive mother bent on vengeance. "Allen v. Farrow" makes the case that Dylan was telling the truth all along, but was silenced by her well-connected father, his powerful allies in the media and a public unwilling to believe such a beloved filmmaker could also be a predator. (Allen, who was never charged with a crime and has denied all allegations of sexual abuse, called the series a "hatchet job.")
Working with producer Amy Herdy, Dick and Ziering have amassed a mountain of evidence, including surreptitiously recorded phone calls, interviews with key witnesses and a newly uncovered cache of documents related to lawsuits and investigations in the early '90s. Mia Farrow, still fearful of Allen, gives a rare, in-depth interview about the ordeal, as does Frank Maco, the Connecticut prosecutor who chose not to pursue charges against Allen because he feared the psychological impact on Dylan.
But the footage of young Dylan, recorded at Farrow's Connecticut home in the days after the alleged abuse, may be the most explosive and disturbing evidence presented in the four-part series. Particularly after hearing others try to discredit and pick apart her account for years, it is startling to watch the child tell her story, using simple gestures and direct language. To many, it will be revelatory.
"There's no way that you can watch that tape and come away with any other conclusion that she was incredibly harmed," says Herdy, an investigative reporter who worked with Dick and Ziering on "The Hunting Ground" and "The Invisible War," documentaries exploring sexual assault on college campuses and in the military, respectively.
After a screening of "The Invisible War" some years ago, Tara Lynda Guber, wife of film producer Peter Guber, implored them to consider making a documentary about incest survivors and offered funds to develop the project. "It steals your identity and it's something the public really doesn't know or understand," Ziering says of the subject. "How do you know who you are when your primal love bond is formed with someone who then transgresses and violates it?"
Thinking they might use her story in a larger project, the filmmakers interviewed Dylan Farrow and were astonished by her account.