Beauty Queen Linor Abargil was abducted, stabbed and raped six weeks before winning the Miss World crown in 1998. Now filmmakers Cecilia Peck and Inbal Lessner explain how they went about filming the aftermath...
It took filmmakers Cecilia Peck and Inbal Lessner five years to make the Brave Miss World documentary – following former beauty queen Linor Abargil as she traveled the world talking about her experiences of sexual assault, and encouraging other women in her situation to speak out. Here, as part of Marie Claire’s #BREAKFREE from Shame campaign, they share what it was really like, behind-the-scenes on the Emmy nominated film.
LINOR ASKED US TO MAKE THE DOCUMENTARY
Linor Abargil was abducted, stabbed, and raped by a travel agent in Milan, Italy, just six weeks before she won the Miss World crown in 1998. During her reign as Miss World, the eighteen year old beauty queen fought to put the serial rapist behind bars. Ten years later, she and her friend Motty Reif traveled to Los Angeles to find a team of women filmmakers to tell her story. Linor wanted to reach out to other survivors and encourage them not to stay silent. We joined forces, and that was that.
THE WAY YOU REACT WHEN SOMEBODY TELLS YOU ABOUT RAPE IS CRUCIAL
Linor credits her mother’s support at the time of the rape for giving her the courage to press charges, and to recover. She called home immediately after the rape, and her mother told her not to take a shower, and to go straight to the police and the hospital. She never made her daughter feel shame or at fault. Linor believes that the right words to use when hearing a report of rape are: “I believe you, it’s not your fault, and I’m going to help you.” This applies to family members, friends, police, lawyers, school administrators, and anyone to whom a rape survivor turns. It’s not appropriate to lead with questions that shame the victim, such as ‘What were you doing in his car?’ This can cause a victim to remain silent and internalize the blame. The first words a victim hears are critical.
MAKING THE DOCUMENTARY WAS TRAUMATIC…
Halfway through making the film, the serial rapist, who Linor had successfully convicted came up for parole, threatening her hard fought stability. She began hunting for his previous victims to enlist their support, and she had to lobby the parole board every six months to deny his parole. Keeping him imprisoned for the duration of his sentence triggered a lot of trauma for Linor.
… AND FUNDING IT WAS TOUGH, TOO
Funding Brave Miss World was a major challenge for us, which drew out completion of the film. But, filming Linor over such an extended period allowed us to follow her through an extreme transformation, and it also reflected the long, ongoing process for all survivors of rape. In the end, the film was funded by investors, grants, donations, and our dedicated Executive Producers: Lati Grobman, Regina Kulik Scully, Geralyn Dreyfous, Irv Bauman, and Orna Raiz. One memorable donation came from a young Wall Street broker who converted his holiday party to a Brave Miss World fundraiser after reading a post about the film on Ben Harper’s facebook page.
THE SITUATION FOR WOMEN WAS MUCH WORSE THAN WE HAD IMAGINED
We encountered difficulties when filming in Johannesburg, South Africa, considered by the UN to be the ‘rape capital of the world’: we had to secure an armed body guard for our all-female crew (stoplight carjacking is common), and one of our crew members had been stabbed because she was gay. While we were there, we discovered the ‘Virgin Myth’ – the raping of virgins in the belief that it will cure the rapist of AIDS, and ‘corrective rape’ – the rape of gay women to ‘correct’ their sexuality.
WE WORKED WITH PROMINENT ACTIVISTS
Among Brave Miss World’s advisors are Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino – two student activists in the U.S. whose organization ‘End Rape on Campus’ http://endrapeoncampus.org supports students filing complaints against their universities or colleges to hold them accountable for their handling of sexual misconduct.
THANKFULLY, BRAVE MISS WORLD HAD A GLOBAL IMPACT
The end credit song in the film, ‘Forgiveness’ was written by Linor, about a mother who wasn’t there for her daughter in a time of need. When Linor became Jewish Orthodox and couldn’t perform the song herself in public, Ben Harper and Natalie Maines collaborated to record it. Hans Zimmer composed the score for the film, because, he said, the film had changed him.
IT HAS WON LOADS OF AWARDS ALREADY
When Brave Miss World premiered at the AFI Docs Film Festival in Washington DC, we – along with Linor – were invited to the White House to meet with Presidential advisors Lynn Rosenthal and Mala Adija, to talk about violence against women and how the film could be used to address the issue. An award winning US and international premiere festival run followed, and is ongoing. The film screened this month at the UN Women International Film Festival in Thailand, and at the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival. Last month Linor screened scenes from Brave Miss World at the UN International Conference on Women’s Shelters in the Hague, where she was a keynote speaker. Earlier this year Linor and Inbal traveled to Cannes to represent Brave Miss World on the Kering Foundation’s Panel: How can Cinema Impact Women’s Rights, and the film won an award at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy.
IT’S NOT JUST A DOCUMENTARY – IT’S A MOVEMENT
The film’s website, www.bravemissworld.com, has become a dynamic, interactive forum for survivors and supporters, serving over 2,000,000 visitors. To date, over 1000 written survivor testimonials have been curated and posted. Survivors and their families also follow and comment regularly on the Brave Miss World Facebook page and Twitter feed.
…AND YOU CAN JOIN IN
The ongoing #IAmBrave Educational Screening series has brought the film to over one hundred college campuses in the US. When possible, we travel, with Linor, to lead post screening discussions and Q&As. Our high school screening series will launch in autumn 2017. In the meantime, the Brave Miss World screenings have sparked conversations about awareness and support for victims of sexual assault, and provided a safe space to speak on campuses around the world. Anyone can host a Brave Miss World screening: http://www.bravemissworld.com/hostascreening
The Emmy Award nominated feature documentary Brave Miss World, about one young rape survivor’s quest to overcome personal tragedy, is streaming on Netflix, itunes, Amazon, and all worldwide platforms in 14 languages. The film will be released on DVD and BluRay with additional bonus content on January 29th.