Film About Child Rape Becomes a Cause

At Sundance, Fanning spoke out about the scene at the heart of the controversy. She told USA Today that the people attacking the film "were attacking my family and me, and that's where it got too far. Pretty much everybody who talked about it attacked my mother, which I did not appreciate. That was extremely uncalled for and hurtful."

Kampmeier said, from the beginning, Fanning was one of her greatest allies, along with the film's other star, Robin Wright Penn, who signed on as an executive producer in 1996, when Kampmeier first showed her the script.

"There was a connection that happened between us that was so deep, so wordless, and it came out of our love of this character," she said about Fanning. "It was as if we both reached across the table and took each other by the hand and walked through this difficult world together and didn't let go until it was done."

By the time Kampmeier had signed Fanning, she had already seen financing for the film fall through four years in a row and made another film, her award-winning debut "Virgin," also with Wright Penn.

"It would always fall through because investors wanted the rape scene taken out," Kampmeier said. But she refused to take it out.

"I couldn't have done this film without the scene, but that's not what the film is about," she said. "The film is about so many things: motherlessness, healing, art, female sexuality, finding your true voice and the most important things, what the character Charles said in the movie, taking that which can poison you and changing it into something good."

After Sundance, Kampmeier recut the film to show how Lewellen goes from being silenced after the rape to ultimately connecting to her true voice.

Empire Film Group purchased "Hounddog" in March for a $1 million advance but has struggled to book it in theaters, including the three major chains, according to the New York Times. The film, which is rated R, opens today in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and rolls out nationally over the next three weeks.

Kampmeier was surprised to find that her real-life journey had begun to parallel Lewellen's in the film.

"It's a story about a girl whose voice is silenced and that's what was happening with this film," Kampmeier said. "I can't ignore the politics of being a woman filmmaker. Ninety percent of the stories on screen are being told by men. The silencing of this story, of women's voice in general, is so disturbing."

Instead of running from the controversy, she has embraced it, enlisting prominent figures like Gloria Steinem and advocacy groups, such as Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), to support the film.

"It's become a controversial film," she said, "and I'm trying to embrace that and bring light to an issue that's been silenced in our culture. Dakota is giving voice to millions of silent women and girls. This is an epidemic in our country, and it's so courageous of Dakota to take on this role. It's a story of triumph and hope in the end."

According to Justice Department statistics, one in six women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime and 44 percent of sexual assault victims are under age 18.

Jennifer Storm a survivor of child sexual assault and the author of "Blackout Girl: Growing Up and Drying Out in America," is looking forward to seeing the film.

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