FIGHTING SOCIETAL TABOOS AND A TANKING
ECONOMY TO SHED LIGHT ON CRIMES OF RAPE
After three and a half years, I’m close to having a rough cut of a film. I thought it was going to be a quick little project. Famous last words. In 2008 my friend Hugh Hudson told me about Linor Abargil, a former Miss World and rape survivor who wanted to speak out to other women and document her experience. I was developing another doc about civil rights advocate Connie Rice, and had recently directed, with Barbara Kopple, “Shut Up & Sing,” about the Dixie Chicks and the backlash against them after Natalie Maines criticized President Bush and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
I’ve always been interested in women who stand up for what they believe in, and in the cost of courage. I said yes to a meeting. At the same time, Linor watched “Shut Up & Sing” and wanted that kind of verité storytelling and intimacy for her film.
Linor and her manager & close friend Motty Reif, a successful producer in Israel, had planned to do a film since Linor’s rape, ten years before. After winning Miss World in 1998 and a difficult, public trial in Israel, Linor stopped talking about the rape in public. She needed time to heal. She became an accomplished actress, playing leading roles on stage. By the time we met she was in law school studying to be an advocate for other victims of rape.
Linor told me about her harrowing ordeal. She was only 18 when she escaped from a violent stabbing and rape and managed to prosecute and convict an older sexual predator and serial rapist. A very compelling person, to say the least. She talked about the role her mother had played, especially right after the attack when Linor called home and her mother said “Don’t take a shower. Go straight to the police. It’s not your fault.” I started thinking about the difference between when a rape victim has their family’s support, versus the ones who are told to keep quiet, or blamed for their attack. I felt there was a story to be told.
I brought my talented editor friend Inbal Lessner (I Have Never Forgotten You) to that first meeting. We’d been looking for a documentary project together. Inbal is Hebrew speaking–it was a good fit. Inbal and I were both very affected by Linor, and went to work learning everything we could about Linor and the issue of rape.
Linor wanted the film to be about urging other women not to stay silent and not to blame themselves. She had been approached by rape victims since her rape, and she now wanted to begin speaking out and meeting with women around the world. I was interested in her–how she was going to cope with talking about and having to relive her own trauma, in order to lift the burden of shame from others.
I hoped to look at how she got her rapist convicted, and also at the healing process. Is it even possible to heal? Linor and I both wanted to explore different kinds of rape, not just stranger rape but the more insidious domestic rape, acquaintance rape, rape with the use of drugs. I came up with a structure for intercutting Linor’s speaking tours with her investigation of her own case and the issues of how rape affects a women’s self worth, ability to be intimate, etc.
Motty Reif had an investor ready to finance the film. We planned for six international trips with Linor. Our initial budget had optimistic line items like production office rental, which quickly got slashed. Hello, kitchen table. We did three months of research and development. When the money from Israel didn’t materialize, the beginning of deferments set in.
Along with Linor and Motty, we were reaching out to rape crisis centers and organizations around the world, and tracking rape cases. Meanwhile, the economy was tanking worldwide, and money for docs had vanished. But the film wanted to be made, and Linor’s resolve was driving me. Motty was actively fundraising, but we had nothing in the bank. Linor was planning a press conference in Tel Aviv in Dec. of 2008 to launch her website and begin her outreach work, and we wanted to film it. Motty’s company agreed to advance money for the first shoot.
Inbal and I thought hard about whether to start and get momentum going, or wait until we had funding. We had a good shoot shaping up. Linor and her family had never really spoken about her rape—it had been too traumatic. She wanted to find how it had affected them, and they were ready to talk on camera. It was time to buy plane tickets. Linor is a superstar in Israel—their only Miss World, a successful model, actress and public figure. The face of rape in her country. Her trial was groundbreaking and very much in the news, as were recent charges of rape against former Israeli president Katsav. It was an important and timely subject. I believed that Israeli investors would fund us.
During the first shoot, Motty brought an investor on board with about 1/8 of the budget. Thank god for Igal Ahuvi. Still, it was a hard decision to start without more financing. It’s haunted us ever since, but if we hadn’t done it, we wouldn’t have a film. We’ve had to do the research and development, writing outlines, budgeting, accounting, negotiating, hiring, renting equipment, calling rape survivors, PA’ing, AC’ing, AD’ing, driving, bcam, additional sound, transcribing, translating, writing grant proposals, making presentations, calling distributors, archival, legal, everything, ourselves. We’ve had fantastic interns along the way but we’ve crushed them. We’re so desperate when someone fresh comes on board, that we overwhelm them. They practically have to change their numbers to get away from us. We’ve never been able to hire an AP. Ouch.
I had asked Inbal to produce with me and Motty early on. She’s a great editor whose technical expertise, knack for numbers, and overview make her a very efficient producer. But because I have to call on her producing skills so often, it eats into her time at the Avid cutting the film. We finally made a strong trailer that is generating interest, but everyone wants different scenes, different budgets, different written materials, and we spend too many weeks not cutting the film.
At different points, Inbal had to leave to edit other short term projects. (She has a new baby!) Editor Elisa Bonora has joined us intermittently in between other jobs. We spent way too much of our editing budget on making selects reels and trailers, but we didn’t have a choice; you have to present footage. Whenever we raised enough funds from friends and supporters, we went on shoots with Linor. Partly because it took so long, we were able to watch a real story unfold.
Linor’s chosen mission was hard on her. She was retraumatized by reliving her rape and hearing so many stories. She needed emergency therapy, she would shut down filming, and she turned toward religion. In front of our eyes she went from being a glamorous high fashion model, to covering herself head to toe in orthodox attire. She started observing Shabbat, which meant shutting down filming on Friday afternoons. Linor would have to get out of the car and walk if we hadn’t reached home or the hotel by sundown. We’re now experts where to find kosher food from South Africa to the U.S.
But that gave the film an interesting twist, particularly since Linor’s fiancé Oron, her first real love since the rape, was secular. So the film got to follow whether she would give up her partner for her religion, or whether he would adapt to her practices so they could stay together. Her rapist also came up for parole during the film, and her fight to keep him in prison became another dramatic thread.
Our hardest shoot was in Italy. Linor had always been afraid to go back to Italy, where she was raped. She wanted to overcome that fear. She interviewed the doctor who had examined her, and he remembered her stab wounds. In court the rapist had tried to say the act was consensual, but here was evidence of the violent, forcible rape. Being there with Linor and viscerally understanding the courage it took to survive, and then to face her accuser in court and prosecute him is part of what drove me to keep filming, to keep fighting for the funds, to push through post.
We’re close to having a cut, but still woefully underfunded. We pre-sold the film to Israeli TV and are so grateful for our investors and donors. Two amazing exec prod women joined our team, Lati Grobman and Orna Raiz. Barbara Kopple and John Battsek have been advising us. We have distribs waiting for a rough cut. But we had to turn to IndieGoGo to get us there. I was reluctant about that at first. Now we’re so inspired by everyone who has rallied to help us finish. Not that we could give up–we know how much this film will mean to women and girls all over the world, as well as husbands, fathers, and sons. We still need help, but we’re hugely motivated by the group of supporters who have joined us online.
Director / Producer: Miss World (wt)
Cecilia Peck directed and produced “Shut Up & Sing,” with Barbara Kopple. She produced “A Conversation with Gregory Peck.” She directed and produced the short film “Justice For All,” an examination of the capital punishment system. As an actress, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance in “The Portrait.” She has been contributing editor at Premiere Magazine, French edition, and has served on the jury at the Aspen Shortsfest.