Coverage by Nobuhiro Hosoki
Interview with director Deborah Kampmeier
Q. You wrote this script. How much of this script has an autobiographical element? Was it totally a story that you picked from the paper?
No, it ‘s a personal story, but in terms of what’s autobiographical and what’s not—I feel my secrets are my fuel as an artist and I have to protect my psyche so I’ll tell the truth the next time around. I feel like any autobiography is fictional and any fiction is autobiographical and sometimes it’s a thick mask of fiction over the truth, sometimes it’s a thin veil, and sometimes it’s wide open and I move freely between these three places
Q. The depiction of the 1950s in this film is very well done. How did you actually prepare for that in the production?
A. My cameraman and lockman who I started with and ended up with – unfortunately he got pulled off to another project – but we were lucky to get but Jim Demont – but I started with Ed and we started with vision and we looked at a lot of art photography. We found the vision together in terms of the look and art direction. It was very specific and detailed. our work.
Q. The story went out—all those Dakota rape scenes—before the film was actually edited out. That was actually the story that spread all over the Internet—sort of like slander before you actually saw the film. How much did it affect you on a personal level as an artist, that you’re trying to put out a film that has a message to it?
A. It’s difficult. It’s very difficult. It’s been difficult in terms of just==you know the controversy started a day before we finished shooting the film, and it frightened people: there were petitions to have me arrested for child pornography, there were petitions to have the mother arrested--you know Dakota’s mother—Dakota was being shamed for taking on this role. I did not set out to make a controversial film. I did not set out to make a film as a social commentary. I wrote this film and made this film from my heart and hoped it would touch someone’s heart. Now that this has become a controversial film and an issues film, I am embracing that and I am really grateful to hopefully bring light to this issue, because it is an epidemic in our society. Dakota gave a courageous performance and in doing so she gave voice to millions of silenced women and girls. What’s particularly disturbing to me about this controversy is: What message does it send out when Dakota is being shamed for telling this story? What is the message we are giving to our daughters and sisters who need to step forward and break their silence and speak their truth? If Dakota is being shamed for telling a fictional story, what message does it send to those girls and woman who need to tell their truth, about their real story? I think that’s particularly disturbing. On a personal level, of course it’s painful, it’s hard, but I also have compassion for these people who are attacking the film, because I think it is an issue that’s very hard to face for a lot of people. It’s very painful. I think that a lot of people don’t have the support to face their own wounds, to face their own pain, so instead of looking at themselves and dealing their own pain, they’re projecting their own anger and fears onto this film, and a lot of people were projecting a lot of agendas on this film that had nothing to do with the film itself.
Q. Would you talk about the racial issues, and the rape scenes, do you think that makes a difference to a director like Spike Lee, for example. A difference involving censorship or something cut out?
I don’t know, perhaps, I don’t know. This is a particular experience with this film—I’m a filmmaker and that ‘s how I address issues and tell stories. I hope some really intelligent people can wrestle with the phenomena that occurred around this film, because I think there are so really interesting issues. There’s a lot going on. There were death threats against me and Dakota for telling a personal story. What is that? There’s a phenomenon around this film that’s bigger than the film, not about the film that I hope people will take a look at and examine. When the controversy came out, and there were petitions to have me arrested for child pornography , I decided to face it head-on because it was generating a lot of fear in my camp and people were questioning whether it was right to release the film, etc. We contacted the district attorney in Wilmington, North Carolina and asked if we could bring the film down because that’s where we would be prosecuted if anything was going to be prosecuted. We took the film down to Wilmington, North Carolina. The district attorney did a full investigation, interviewed the cast, interviewed the crew, watched the film, and after the film he said “we’ll put in writing they would not prosecute the film that there’s nothing criminal, nothing inappropriate.” They thanked me for making the film and thanked me for showing them the film, because they prosecute the same thing every day. In fact, the week before they had convicted a man for impregnating his 10-year old daughter, and this had been in the paper, and they had not gotten one phone call about this, but they got 10 to 20 phone calls a day from people asking them to prosecute my film. I think that expresses a very disturbing reality about people, what they’re willing to look at in our country and how they change the focus from what’s really happening to something safe they can project it on to. That mirrors a lot of problems right now in our society, I think.
Q Could you talk about the selection of Dakota Fanning. Was she the first choice?
A. You know I wrote this script before she was born, so it was never like I had Dakota in mind for this script. It’s been a long haul. I had this film cast before. I had an unknown in this role—financing fell through and she grew up. As we were moving along, one of my producers said to me, “How about Dakota Fanning.” I think she’d just done “War of the Worlds.” I said, “Yeah, she’s great, but we’re not going to get her.” The producer said “Write one of your letters,” cause I always write these passionate letters to actors and producers and cameramen. “Write one of your letters and we’re going to send the script off.” So we sent it off and I forgot about it—it was not like one of these things that I was meditating that Dakota would get it or putting a letter in a box and it would manifest. I sort of let it go because it was so far out of the realm of possibility in my mind. Two months later, my producer called me and said, “Dakota wants to do this. Can you fly out tomorrow and meet her?” I got on the plane the next day and flew out. The moment I walked in the room I knew she was perfect. There was a connection between we had that was wordless. She loved this character and much as I loved this character. It’s as if we reached across the table, took each other by the hand walked into these real difficult world together. And we held each other by the hand and didn’t let go till we got on the other side. It was extraordinary. I think her talent comes from—it’s a gift. It’s an ability for her to be present: there ‘s a depth of presence that’s astonishing and remarkable in someone her age. And I think that’s where her gift lies, and I think it’s extraordinary.
Q Would you talk a little bit about the choice of soundtrack, besides the obvious Elvis “Hound Dog”?
I wanted to find authentic music from the South, from that period. I had this idea that didn’t actually end up working out, but I had this idea that I wanted to use--in addition to “Hound Dog”--I wanted to combine—put in the original blues version and Elvis’ version, and interestingly most of the ones that he did as remakes weren’t the songs I wanted to use in the film, so it didn’t work out that way. The soundtracks felt very important to me— the songs, the voice, the singing is such an element in the film. I felt like every time there’d be a bump, a hard moment, I wanted this music to come in and lift the spirit again. There’s the exuberance of youth that’s in music, and the life force, the nature in the film—that thing you can’t crush. We were very lucky because at the eleventh hour—I had this idea for the score that I wanted a single guitar and a voice. Oh, I wrestled with a lot of people about that because there was this idea we needed a thicker score that that. but I kept sticking with it, and I had this great composer. At the eleventh hour we got G. E. Smith who was the lead man at “Saturday Night Live” for 10 years. He was amazing, and so generous. He came in and just—I thought hit the zone, I thought he did an amazing job and it was one of those things where he was on tour and he was in town one day. and it was exactly the day we had at the studio to record and he just came in and nailed it. He was unbelievable: his talent and his generosity just brought the final element to the whole film that was just perfect needed and tied it all together. It just goes to show that everything keeps working together at the eleventh hour, and I don’t know how but it does and it was another one of those moments that was just great.
Q. Could you talk about the editing process—was there any significant cutout right after the Sundance film festival….?
A. Yeah, well we were really rushed before Sundance. I was actually underground because my investors were in a battle after we got back from shooting, I had sort of put myself in breach of every contract we signed. There was a major battle and people were trying to take the film away from me. They actually thought they had; they felt they’d seize the equipment. We did a little maneuver—one of my producers sold her car, and we continued editing underground. And not until I got int Sundance did anyone know I was editing. And because we got to Sundance I was able to bring all the parties to the table and get them to join forces, we got the money to finish. It was a mad rush to get to Sundance at this point. It was really about piecing together a plot, so people could watch a film with a beginning, middle, and end. And I feel that cut was about action, this cut is about reaction This cut is much more nuanced, much more subtle; it gives more room to the actor’s performances to tell the story. I thing we were really able to dig in. The film is 50% different. but that’s because we changed the performances in every single scene.
It wasn’t about talking scenes out or putting scenes in. We did take a couple of scenes out; we put a new scene in. The change is because we changed the performances in every single scene .. Most films have the opportunity to do that, to do a pass about performances. We hadn’t had that opportunity. the performances are so extraordinary, if you let them focus and tell the story. I did structurally change one major thing. The film means so many things to me, and it’s so layered. I wanted to really try to focus it, and what I chose to be the focus was that she voiceless and then reclaimed it, and it’s her true voice that she reclaims. I felt that it order to really clarify that I wanted her not to speak after the rape. I took out several scenes and moved several scenes in order to make it that after the rape--except for when she screams at her father—she does not speak till the end when Charles pushes her to sing again and to reconnect to her voice. That was a major structural change I made to the film. But other than that it’s the same theme, the same movie. The performances are so different and I think there’s space. I think this cut is about reaction, whereas the first was about action.