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Cecilia Peck's 'Brave Miss World' film about sexual assaults set to screen at film festival

Filmmaker Cecilia Peck and Linor Arbagil discuss “Brave Miss World”

One of the great things about the Chicago International Film Festival — and all film festivals for that matter — is the opportunity to see films that likely will not have a major theatrical release. Documentaries in particular often fall into that category, and this weekend’s CIFF screenings of director/producer Cecilia Peck’s “Brave Miss World” provides an opportunity for audiences to see her truly compelling film about Linor Arbagil, who won Miss World 1998 — a mere seven weeks after being brutally raped and nearly killed by a serial rapist. Along with interviewing non-famous victims around the globe, the film also includes segments with actresses Fran Drescher and Joan Collins sharing their personal stories of being attacked.

Speaking from her California home earlier this week, Peck, the daughter of legendary actor Gregory Peck, explained why her film offers a compelling narrative to a “very brave young woman, who turned a horrific experience into an opportunity to make people understand “why victim blaming is so disgraceful and why we need laws to combat violence against women.”

“Brave Miss World” — with both director Cecilia Peck and producer Inbal Lessner in attendance — will be screened at the Chicago International Film Festival at AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. In addition, Peck and her team will be hosting a discussion group for survivors of rape and assault at the Lucky Strike Lounge (in the AMC River East complex) at 5:30 p.m., following the Saturday screening. It will be a safe space for anyone who wants to talk about the film or share experiences, to meet and connect. Peck hopes someone who reads this — who has been silent for a long time — may be moved to come forward.

Q: How did you come to become involved in this project?

A: I got a call that an Israeli beauty queen was looking for a woman director to document her reaching out to rape victims. That seemed like an unlikely heroine for a story like this, but the suggestion came from my friend, Hugh Hudson, the director of ‘Chariots of Fire,’ someone I respect greatly — so I went to meet with Linor Abargil.

Q: Did you two connect immediately?

A: Yes, we did. She had seen ‘Shut Up & Sing’ [Peck’s 2006 documentary about the Dixie Chicks and the political firestorm caused by Natalie Maynes’ negative comments about President George W. Bush]. She liked the way that film took the audience on a journey, and she wanted to make a film to speak out about what happened to her.

Q: I understand that Linor’s mother — whom she called immediately after her attack was instrumental in helping her survive that trauma?

A: Yes. She talks about her rape with no shame. Linor told me, ‘Why should I be ashamed? The fault is [the rapist].’ Her mother did the right thing. When Linor called her, having barely escaped with her life having been stabbed and strangled, after being raped, her mother said, ‘Linor, do not take a shower. Call the police. Go to the hospital. It’s not your fault and I’m going to help you.’

If it wasn’t for her mom, she would have hidden it, showered and been ashamed. She was able to go to the police and give then DNA evidence which convicted the rapist.

Q: What do you hope your film conveys to audiences?

A: The film a guide to anyone who has been a victim of rape or assault — but also for anyone who knows anyone who might be attacked. This is a global issue, but strangely there are not a lot of films made about it, because it is such a tough subject. We tried to give sexual assault a human face, but in a way that would be compelling for the audience to watch.

Q: Your father clearly was one of the great actors of the 20th Century and well known as a humanitarian. What legacy do you feel you carry on thanks to him?

A: I really believe he would be proud of the work I’m doing. He took issues like racism and anti-Semitism and made films that transcended the issue, but managed to deal with them. That has always inspired me as a filmmaker to do the same thing.