Wednesday, January 24, 2007
The 'Hounddog' experience
The film that's been on everyone's minds here at Sundance has made its debut and screened for the public.

"Hounddog" features 12-year-old Dakota Fanning in a brutal rape scene, which has some outraged, saying this movie has crossed the line of decency and is exploiting Fanning. (Watch some background -- and Fanning's response.)

I first want to say that I was completely dreading having to watch this film and this particular scene. It's not my cup of tea, but because of the nature of my job I don't always get to choose whom or what I cover.

(That dread was combined with utter frustration because when I arrived at the theater in my rental car, I was told I couldn't park in the lot (where there were plenty of spaces!), and that I needed to drive about a mile for "festival parking" and take the shuttle. Well, when I got to the appropriate lot, I realized I only had eight bucks -- and parking was $10. I searched for street parking, eventually found it, and then hopped on the shuttle, only to watch the driver hop off for a break. The minutes were ticking by.

(Once back at the theater, I was told I couldn't get in because they didn't have a list, I didn't have a ticket and the publicist who confirmed my attendance was nowhere to be found. I think they saw the rising panic in my eyes because they decided to let me in on good faith that I was indeed supposed to be there. All I could do was laugh. One would think it wouldn't be so difficult to see a film at a film festival! But I digress.)

I found the "Hounddog" rape scene very disturbing and unsettling. It's horrific, yes. It's violent, yes. But to my relief, it is very, very brief. The scene only lasts a few seconds and Dakota isn't exposed. Her face, her hand and arm are really the only body parts visible. The implication, of course, of what is happening is nightmarish.

In other suggestive scenes in the film, Dakota is shown wearing nothing but underwear and a thin, small tank top. Not a film that's easy to watch by any stretch of the imagination.

If the film is picked up by a distributor and hits the mainstream (which I expect it will), we will probably be talking about Dakota this time next year during awards season. Her performance is remarkable. The film overall, though, is not superb in my opinion. Sure, at times it was compelling and suspenseful, but there were more moments when it seemed disjointed, even tedious.

Surprisingly Dakota did press at last night's premiere (and yes, she spoke to us -- guess she changed her mind about not doing any interviews with CNN, though I still don't know why she wouldn't in the first place).

Dakota told us that she hopes people reserve judgment until they've seen the movie. She also said that ultimately it was her decision to accept this role since she is the one playing the character.

This isn't the first time a child actress has played a disturbing part, as many of you mentioned in your comments. You may also remember Brooke Shields was 12 years old when she played a prostitute in "Pretty Baby" in 1978, and a young Jodie Foster got an Oscar nomination for playing a child prostitute in the 1976 classic "Taxi Driver."

Is it ever OK for a young child to play a role of this nature? Do you think Dakota is being exploited? Keep sending in your thoughts.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Sundance soaked in controversy
Everybody's talking about "Hounddog" starring 12-year-old Dakota Fanning. This is the movie where her character is brutally raped. Even the president of the Catholic League, William Donahue, is calling for a federal investigation of the movie to determine if federal child pornography laws were violated during filming.

The director of "Hounddog," Deborah Kampmeier, told us in a statement, "What an ironic turn of events that Bill Donohue who has never once called for a federal probe against his own Catholic church's cover-up of child abuse is now doing just that for a film site [sic] unseen. ... Mr. Donohue would have more credibility and serve his cause better if he acted on the facts instead of chasing a quick headline."

It's getting ugly, people. Deborah, Bill -- to your corners!

And today we were told that none of the cast is doing any organized TV press here ... they're just talking to print outlets. Again, I ask, why? Maybe Dakota will change her mind and talk to CNN. I am hopeful!

I screen the film Tuesday morning. Check here afterwards for my thoughts, but for now I want to know what you think about a 12-year old actress playing a character who is raped on screen. Send in your opinions!

Keri Russell and Cheryl Hines are in town for their movie, "Waitress," which co-stars and was written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly. Shelly was murdered in New York in November. Russell and Hines spoke fondly of Shelly and told me they are still in a state of shock that she is gone.

They hope this film serves as a legacy for Shelly, who they said was very proud of this movie and couldn't wait to hear whether "Waitress" had been accepted into Sundance. She died before she received the good news that it got into the festival.

Talk turned to Russell's pregnancy. She said she's thrilled about having a baby with fiance Shane Deary and said they won't find out the sex of the child beforehand because there are already "too few surprises in life." I agree! The little one is expected to make his/her debut this summer.

Mandy Moore stopped by to talk "Dedication," her new movie here at Sundance. She also opened up about recent statements she made in an interview with Jane magazine that she had suffered from bouts of depression and sadness. Mandy says all is fine now and she's feeling great.

Regarding her singing career, Mandy apologized for the music she made in the past, saying it was horrible and that she's making a clean start with a brand new album. I'm curious ... what do you think about Mandy Moore's music?

Sundance rolls on, as does my team. They're getting weary from the long hours, but they're still upbeat and looking forward to what tomorrow brings!
Monday, January 22, 2007
Oscar nominations
CNN.com's Tom Charity has posted his predictions for tomorrow's Oscar nominations. He's high on "Dreamgirls," thinks a Mark Wahlberg "Departed" nomination is chancy and can't imagine Guillermo Del Toro picking up a best director nomination. (Not that he agrees with all that -- the piece is his opinion on what the Academy will pick, not his own nominations.)

How about you, kind reader? What did Tom miss? Where is the Academy going to blow it? Take a moment and submit your own opinions.
Sundance, Day 3 (1/20/07)
The streets of Park City are crawling with people. Tens of thousands of people are here -- many to get a first look at the films being featured, some just to stargaze -- and then there are the actors, directors and producers themselves.

A quick walk down Main Street and you're sure to spot celebrities. I nearly bumped into Kristen Bell of "Veronica Mars" as I was winding my way through the crowds, and Famke Janssen ("X-Men," "Nip/Tuck") was seated at the table next to me at dinner.

Some stars are Sundance veterans, like Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is his third trip to Sundance, this time to unveil "The Savages."

Hoffman and co-star Laura Linney stopped by the CNN workspace first thing this morning for an interview. Philip requested coffee as soon as he walked in the door. Caffeine is a must for many festival attendees who have late nights rubbing elbows with fellow industry folks. Hoffman and Linney were a delight and are thrilled about their new film. Although "The Savages" already has a distributor, there is no release date yet. Stay tuned for when you can catch it in theaters.

My next interview of the day goes in the books as one of my all-time favorites. And no, it wasn't with a celebrity. I sat down for a very candid chat with Dick Gephardt (former House minority leader), his wife Jane and their daughter Chrissy, who is gay. The three of them are featured in the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So," which argues that a handful of Biblical passages have been used to "validate hatred and violence against homosexuals." The Gephardts told me they wanted to tell their story in this documentary to show that the Bible really is about love and acceptance, and that they support their daughter Chrissy unconditionally. These three people radiated such warmth and goodness. I could have spent the entire day with them!

But duty called and I had to rush from that interview to another location to chat it up with Kevin Bacon. I think I was rushing a bit too much because, as I was literally running up the hill on Main Street to make it in time, I hit an ice patch. You can imagine what happened next. It was a major spill, but pride and adrenaline (and the nearly 50 passers-by who witnessed this) forced me to pop up immediately and soldier on, despite my now dirty jacket and hands, and bruised left hip and ego. My mother always says she should have named me "Grace."

Kevin didn't seem to notice my harried appearance and we had a nice time talking about his new project. No, it's not a film, but a new Web site he has launched, sixdegrees.org, to play off the game that has been synonymous with his name for years. The Web site is a central location for celebrities to share their favorite charities and why it's important to them. It's up and running and is not just about fund-raising, but volunteering and awareness. Check it out -- and let me know what you think about the Web site and Kevin's efforts!
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