Meet my rapist: A dark comedy about sexual assault

As you might imagine, The Sin City Siren headquarters gets a LOT of mail every day. Whether it’s direct messages on twitter or posts on Facebook or just good old fashioned email, frankly, I just don’t have the time to get to every message every day. (Sorry!) But there was one waiting in my inbox last week that I couldn’t help but open.

The subject line read simply: Meet My Rapist. I wasn’t sure if I was about to open a deeply personally confessional — of which I get many by folks looking to connect — or perhaps a terrible idea for a game show. What I found was something much, much better: award-winning filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler’s intensely dark comedy about confronting her rapist and the healing process the world thinks she should be having.

Still from Meet My Rapist, a film by Jessie Kahnweiler. Photo by Patrick Gookin

Still from Meet My Rapist, a film by Jessie Kahnweiler. Photo by Patrick Gookin

A customary TRIGGER WARNING is in effect on this video for sure.

But I would urge many folks to give this film a chance. It is unlike any look at sexual violence I have seen. There is a wry use of comedy that cuts right to the heart of many things I have felt over the years. (My particular favorite was a witty scene in which the protagonist tells her friend she was raped and then has to immediately start helping the friend through their feelings of processing such information. Leaving the protagonist isolated and alone, perhaps more than ever.) It’s hard to explain how some of these scenes are “funny,” but they are. And then there are scenes that are so hard, so difficult … you just have to laugh to keep from crying. And that is something that feels very real and authentic to me. I know some will find an issue with there being anything comedic about a rape story, but I would argue that there is no wrong way to tell our stories of survival.

You can check out the seven-minute short, as well as many of her other films, here:

But I wanted to know more about Kahnweiler — whom I can’t help but think of Capt. Kirk yelling “Kaaahn!” whenever I spell out her name — and I have a hunch you will, too. Here’s a Q&A we did via email.

What inspired you to create this film?

I was inspired by the struggle I’ve had in processing my own rape. It’s been eight years since I was raped and after going through all the “right” healing steps (telling loved ones, therapy etc.) I found myself frustrated that I was still not “over it.” Looking back, as a loud-n-proud feminist, I felt so much pressure (mostly self imposed) to be strong and not play the hopeless victim that I think I cheated myself out of processing my own feelings about it. I didn’t have any finite goals for the film but I hoped that the process of making it would help me come to terms with my own experience and really honor my feelings surrounding it. It’s funny because for me film-making is like an ass-backwards way to find truth, as I’m literally using my imagination in order to get real with myself. And it gets tricky sometimes when you’re mixing life and art in the same blender but it’s also where the really juicy stuff happens (yep, juicing pun, I did it).

There are definitely some moments of dark humor in the film. Some might find humor a strange way to talk about a subject like rape. Tell us about how the story came together and your decision-making process in when and where to use humor.

I never set out to make a comedy. When I sat down to reflect on my experience this is the story that came out. It’s very much a reflection on how I see the world. I grew up in a family where it was always okay to laugh. My parents taught me that nothing was 100% tragedy or comedy that life was much more complex than that. Thank G-d. We dealt with pain, tragedy, and loss with humor. Not to make light of anything but rather as a way to cope. My family is big on self expression. Whatever IT is inside you … get it out! If you find the film to be filled with exhausting contradictions, imagine how I feel!

Why tackle a topic like rape? Surely there are easier subjects for a film.

HA! You’re so right. As a young filmmaker looking for my “big break” in Hollywood I guess making a film about rape is not the best way to get a 3 picture deal ๐Ÿ™‚ But in my experience I never actively choose to make a film. Usually I’m in yoga or eating kimchi barefoot in my backyard and I have this moment, this spark, and it just hits me and it’s like, “Oh yeah okay THAT’S a movie.” When I wondered what it would be like to run into my rapist again and show him how he had effected my life it was one of those moments. It wasn’t that I wanted to make this movie but more so I couldn’t NOT make this movie. To be honest I was really terrified to take this on — so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to execute this idea in the right way. [I kept thinking] “Oh my g-d people are going to be so offended or I’m going to cry too much or I’m not going to cry enough.” I was going crazy and almost called off the shoot like a zillion times but I’m realizing that for me, having that terror is a sign that I’m really on to something. It’s like, okay I CAN BE scared as long as I get my ass in the car and get to set.

I had the most INCREDIBLE support system in my cast and crew. Seeing how everyone brought their own brilliant creative vision to my story was so inspiring. Every time I got cold feet I’d have an amazing rehearsal with one of my actors or the cinematographer would email me an idea for an epic shot and it really hit me that this movie was happening whether I liked it or not. From the initial script outline through editing and sound design they literally carried me through this movie. As far as the film’s subject matter, I mean trust me, there’s nothing I’d love more than to make a film about a feisty young Jewish girl who leaves Jon Ham after having an affair with Ryan Gosling in Paris but that is not my reality. … YET.

What do you hope to accomplish with this film? Will there be more?

I’m hoping to get tons of eyeballs on the film and spark a dialogue about rape culture. The fact that so many people won’t watch the movie because it’s a comedy or has rape in the tittle is so sad to me. Watch the film. Feel uncomfortable. And then talk about why you do! My dream is to Google “sexual abuse survivors tell their story” and have a billion videos come up. In the meantime, I’ll be in LA cranking out films about stuff that scares me.

What would you like everyone to know or understand about sexual violence?

This is not THE rape story. This is MY rape story. I think a lot of people shy away from talking about rape because they feel pressure to have the perfect opinion or solution or attitude towards it. In order to talk answers we have to actually start talking. To all victims or anyone who has been affected by sexual violence, I would say to share your story whenever and however feels right to you. There are people that want to hear your story. Well, I can’t speak for people, but I want to hear [it]. And I’m here, in my polka dot leggings sitting underneath my orange tree, waiting to listen to you.

How about some biographical info. Where are you from? What do you do?

I canโ€™t afford therapy so I make films. I started playing make-believe in utero and never stopped. At the University of Redlands I quickly began ditching class in order to make documentaries, believing this would be the best way to find some answers to all my new-found questions.

For my first documentary, Little America, I hitchhiked across the country with truck drivers interviewing them and other lovely souls who were taking a beating from the American dream. By exploring this world I was delving into parts of myself Iโ€™d never known existed. There I was, 19 years-old at a truck stop at 3 am with a bunch of hookers in the middle of nowhere, and I never felt more like home. After graduation I moved to LA (but kept my soul!) and wrote/directed a slew of shorts including Stupid Questions starring Zelda Williams about Lucy, a feisty young casting assistant who holds a phony casting call in an effort to find her dream guy. The film has screened at the Hollyshorts, the Los Angeles Comedy Fest, the LA Shorts Festival, and has been honored with an LA Movie award of excellence.

In 2011, I was selected for the 6 Points Artist Fellowship and created an 11 part comedic web series, Dude, Whereโ€™s my Chutzpah?, which has enjoyed both critical and popular appeal online generating over 300,000 YouTube views about an apathetic Jewish girl who learns that in order to get the fortune left behind by her grandma she must live Jewish for one year. For the project I went undercover in the Los Angeles orthodox community, became best friends with a holocaust survivor, dodged tear gas bullets in the West Bank, and cross-dressed at the Western Wall. Aside from the radical adventures, DWMC taught me that producing engaging work requires being ruthlessly honest with myself.

I strive to make work so personal that I’m afraid to show it to anybody else. I make film to make the world feel more like home. I live in Los Angeles with my plants.

You can tweet Jessie Kahnweiler at @shegotchutzpah.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s