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'The controversy about my movie, Hounddog, always comes from people who haven't actually seen it," says Deborah Kampmeier, the director of the controversial film. The coming-of-age drama about a girl in the American South in the Fifties will be shown at the 6th International Women's Film Festival, which will be held in Rehovot September 7-13 with Kampmeier in attendance. The opening event will take place at the Weizmann Institute and screenings will be held at the Chen cinemas. The festival features 50 films, 25 of them by Israeli directors. Among the special events will be a tribute to actress and author Gila Almagor, in honor of her 70th birthday, a conference on women and money and a panel on adapting Jane Austen to the big screen.
The opening attraction is The Milk of Sorrow, directed by Claudia Llosa, which won the Golden Bear Award, the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, this year. Set in Peru, it deals with the traumatic life of a young woman who was conceived in a rape. Other directors who are attending and will present films at the festival include Marije Meerman, who made Mama Please Call Me, Irene Von Alberti with Tangerine, and Marie-Jaoul de Poncheville with Tengri: Blue Heavens.
Kampmeier's Hounddog became the focus of a firestorm of publicity when it was revealed that it included a scene in which the young heroine, played by 12-year-old Dakota Fanning, is raped. The film also stars Robin Wright Penn, Piper Laurie and David Morse.
"I never set out to make a controversial film," says Kampmeier. "But I did embrace the controversy as a way to bring to light a real epidemic in the US" - sexual abuse. "So many women and men who have gone through some sort of trauma told me after they saw the film that they were moved by it and felt grateful."
But being in the eye of such a storm of negative publicity was not easy for Kampmeier. "I was just trying to tell a story that was close to my heart, and I was attacked in the media" she says. "There were petitions to have Dakota Fanning's family arrested for allowing her to participate in child porn."
While it is clear that a rape is taking place in the film, the scene lasts less than two minutes and shows only Fanning's face. "It's really about how she finds the strength to walk away from what has harmed her and make a better life for herself."
KAMPMEIER, WHO is traveling with her 8-year-old daughter and whose visit to Israel for the festival will be her first, says that while the film isn't autobiographical, it was still highly personal for her. She grew up in the South; Tennessee, George and Alabama, before moving to New York at 18 to try to become an actress. She knew she wanted to set her film in the South, because the region "holds this mythic, poetic expression of dysfunction we are all wrestling with."
In New York, Kampmeier was exposed to foreign and art films for the first time, and she saw as many as she could. She arrived at directing by a rather circuitous route: Impressed by Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire, she decided to make a short film that would showcase her talent and convince him to cast her in a sequel. But as she made this lyrical short, she realized she wanted to direct, not act. It wasn't an easy path.
She wrote the screenplay for Hounddog, but it was hard to get financing for a period film about a girl obsessed with Elvis Presley. The financing fell through four times and, during that period, Kampmeier wrote another script, Virgin, about a young woman who is raped on a date, gets pregnant, and decides to have the baby. Robin Wright Penn also starred in that film, which was made on a shoestring. After all the disappointments with Hounddog, Kampmeier said, "I felt I would die if I didn't make a film." When she finished with Virgin, however, she was finally able to secure the funding for Hounddog.
Looking back on her long road to making Hounddog and getting it to theaters, she says, "After that experience, people have said everything bad they can say about me. Now I can just go out and make my films."
For more details about the International Women's Film Festival, or to order tickets, go to www.iwff.net