SENTENCING THE VICTIM


Filmmaker Q&A

Director and co-producer Liz Oakley talks about how one haircut led to seven years of filmmaking.

How did you and Joanna end up working on the film together?

All I wanted was a haircut… that’s how it started. I needed a new hairstylist and a mutual friend sent me to Joanna. In the middle of my haircut, she asked if I “knew of any good producers.” I had, undoubtedly, been set up. She told me she was interested in doing a documentary on the problems faced by rape victims and I politely agreed to give her some advice. After all, she was holding a very sharp pair of scissors. My intention was to meet with her, put in my two cents, and move on. I did not immediately gravitate to the idea of doing a piece on rape. It took many meetings and a trip to a parole board hearing before I realized that this thing I was resisting was the thing I most needed to do. Seven years later, film in hand, I found myself emotionally, physically and financially exhausted… but my hair does look pretty damn good.

What’s the most memorable thing someone has said to you after viewing this film?

Joanna and I were invited to Washington to screen the film at the Department of Justice. Afterwards, the head of the Office of Violence Against Women walked up to me and with a look that was somewhere between shock and bewilderment said, “I had no idea.” This is an incredibly intelligent woman who has worked tirelessly for and with victims, and she had no idea. At that moment, I realized the power and potential of what we had created.

What do you hope to achieve with this film?

World peace… sorry, I suddenly felt like a beauty pageant contestant. No, really, it has been said, “life is like a beat, to change a mind is to change the world.” So, from the beginning that has been our goal. To have one officer think twice before interviewing a victim, to have one lawmaker see a real person’s face before signing legislation, to have one family rally around their daughter instead of turning her away in shame. We want to change the beat.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

Joanna. She’s relentless. Actually, the truth is I never approached this project that way. I never thought, “oh, we’re making an independent film.” I thought, “we have to tell this story.” We made this film, in many ways, because we didn’t know that we couldn’t.

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

It’s simple: public television is one of the few media outlets left that believes in taking risks.

What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

Anything in my personal life.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Be prepared to hear “no” and “you can’t” and “it’ll never happen.” Then prepare yourself to ignore all of that and do what you know you can do and, at times, the things you didn’t know you could do.

If you could have one motto, what would it be?

“Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.”—Maya Angelou

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