Review: An Army of Women | SXSW 2024

Score: B

Director: Julie Lunde Lillesaeter

Running Time: 84 min

Rated: NR

Women are used to not being heard. Over the years, women have learned that creating change takes a community, a chorus of voices speaking up for improvement. The documentary An Army of Women once again proves this point, highlighting a “small” fight in one corner of the world to illustrate the strength and persistence of those who choose to speak out against injustice. It’s certainly not an easy path.

Director Julie Lund Lillesaeter introduces us to Amy, Marina, and Hanna, past or present residents of Austin, Texas. These women have an unfortunate commonality - the Austin police have dismissed their rape cases, leaving them to pick up the unresolved pieces. They find each other through a federal class-action lawsuit, and along with twelve other women, argue that sexual assault isn’t prosecuted because it’s a crime that predominantly affects women. 

Lillesaeter is dedicated to capturing each progression of the case. While her coverage started in 2018 when the lawsuit began, it continues into the present day. It’s both thorough filmmaking and a testament to how long these cases can take, especially when a pandemic is thrown into the mix. Still, her coverage of the women and their lawyers Jennifer Ecklund and Elizabeth Myers is empathetic but keeps the right amount of distance, allowing her subjects to speak for themselves.

Suing institutions like the City of Austin, Travis County, and the Austin Police Department is bound to ruffle feathers, and the group of women face delays and setbacks along with having their trauma poured over in detail. It’s inspiring to watch them and their lawyers go toe-to-toe with bureaucracy, determined to see some good come from so much pain. And in covering so many years, we see their lives continue with their ever-present legal fights, moving apartments, getting married, and becoming more involved in Austin’s political and activist movements.

In many ways, as our protagonists continue their journey, we get to see them evolve and take strength from each other. Women who began this ordeal uncertain or wary of confronting their assaults find themselves emboldened to tell their stories either in written form or on a stage. Lillesaeter does well to keep this documentary, spanning years, to an efficient 84 minutes, creating narrative clarity both around the legal fight and its participants.

Most of all, An Army of Women illustrates that fighting injustice isn’t easy, but worthwhile. The obstacles the women face often seem insurmountable but it doesn’t stop them from pivoting and advocating their way to recognition and change. It’s incredibly inspiring to see a group of “ordinary” women step up to make changes in their local community, to create something positive out of their horrific experiences. 


About Katie Anaya

Katie Anaya