Keshet International has closed deals with DPG Media (Belgium), TV 2 (Denmark) and TV4 in Finland and Sweden for the hidden camera investigation “Undercover: Sexual Harassment – The Truth,” which debuted on Channel 4 in December.
Produced by Kalel Productions, the film sees investigative reporter Ellie Flynn revealing the true extent of sexual harassment towards women of all ages in the U.K. Accompanied by hidden crew members, she goes undercover, enduring countless harassment online and in real-life.
“These are stories that women tell one another in their friendship groups or on social media. I wanted to show that feeling,” Flynn tells Variety.
“Sometimes, when you try to explain how sexual harassment feels or the impact it has on you, people – and by people I think often men – just don’t get it. It was trying to highlight that, [saying]: ‘This is why we are scared.’ It can happen anytime you go out.”
In the doc, Flynn – who also tends to focus on issues affecting young women in her work as a journalist – signs up for dating apps using photos of her 18-year-old self, only to be bombarded with graphic texts and images. She interviews girls harassed when wearing their school uniform and, finally, pretends to be drunk and lost at night. Repeatedly, and deliberately, targeted by men in a predatory fashion, with one stranger following her to her hotel room.
“We were really surprised by the frequency with which Ellie was, or would have been approached. Most notably in Leicester Square but also in Liverpool,” says Kalel Productions’ Nick Parnes.
“We had to stop filming because she was so shaken up. Had she stayed out, she would have kept on getting approached, again and again. People who were approaching her were sober men. It seemed like they were out to do exactly what they were doing: Approach and harass drunk girls.”
“When we were pitching this documentary, Nick was always sure that this stunt will work. I was a bit more skeptical: ‘What are the chances of someone following me all the way back?’ I was shocked by the way it pans out,” adds Flynn.
“Undercover” isn’t the first hidden-camera social experiment programme for the company, also behind “Eye Spy” with Stephen Fry. According to Parnes, Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” served as an inspiration too, with its protagonist – played by Carey Mulligan – also pretending to be drunk and then revealing she is sober.
“There wasn’t one specific case that made me want to do it. I knew from my own experience growing up, and from my friends’ experiences, from all the women I have spoken to, that these kinds of things happen all the time and on a huge scale,” says Flynn.
“I think in some ways it’s happening more, because of the internet. Now, you can never escape it. But there is also a lower tolerance for it among young women and I think it was highlighted through the schoolgirls we spoke to.”
She also decided to share her findings with men, showing disturbing footage to an all-male panel. Kick-starting a discussion that nobody wants yet everyone needs.
“We really wanted to include men in the conversation. It’s not just a women’s issue: It’s everyone’s issue and men can make the biggest impact in changing this kind of behavior. It ended up being a really powerful scene.”
Parnes adds: “We wanted to show a cross section of men being shocked by what they saw, embarrassed and even apologetic. Even if they themselves aren’t harassers, they can prevent their friends from becoming ones. It’s not just that we are trying to get the government to change. We want men to look out for the opposite sex and women to look out for each other.”
Other undercover projects with Flynn are currently being discussed.
“I am definitely interested in taking my work outside of the U.K. These issues are happening everywhere. Telling these stories, all across the world in lots of different ways, is important,” she states.
As noted by Kelly Wright, KI’s MD of Distribution, in the U.K., 71% of women surveyed have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public.
“The findings of Ellie’s groundbreaking experiments are impossible to deny. As a team, we are inspired that this show is engaging so many buyers so quickly.”
KI’s other MipTV highlights include “Suspicion,” an adaptation of “False Flag” for Apple TV+ starring Uma Thurman, and Kuma Studios’ “A Body That Works.”