The World Splitting Open: An Interview with Filmmaker Deborah Kampmeier

Deborah Kampmeier’s first two films, Virgin and Hounddog were met with a great deal of controversy, and her third feature, SPLIT, about to be released by Candy Factory Films, should expect nothing less. Kampmeier seems committed to telling stories through the female experience, rather than the male gaze, even if that means her narratives veer into territory that is uncomfortable and often resisted, if not outright attacked, by the mainstream. SPLIT forces it’s audience to sit through through images of female sexuality that have not been sanitized, like a middle aged woman masturbating in a frenzy of fury. Or images of scars endured while living in a patriarchal society, like a woman revealing what remains after undergoing female genital mutilation. And while these images can be uncomfortable, if not outright painful to view, there is also something validating, if not comforting and inspiring to see women represented on screen in their raw messy truth. Amy Ferris, sits down with Deborah to discuss some of the impulses that inform her work.

AF: “If one woman told the truth about her life, the world would split open.” How extraordinarily apropos and perfect given the world right now; the world we’re living in.

DK: That is a quote from the poet Muriel Rukeyser and it has always inspired me deeply. I have the quote above my writing desk and in the front cover of my journals and it became the pulse of the screenplay as I wrote SPLIT.

AF: Let’s talk about the powerful running theme in all of your work: women, trauma, sexuality, and expression. Rage. Aside from your deep passion that is represented in all your work, what it is you want to tell women – from every walk of life – in todays world. What is your message to them?

DK: It’s interesting, I think I need to start thinking about messaging, because we have a shit ton of misogynistic messaging to counteract right now.  But I guess when I make my films, I am hoping that by speaking my truth, I give another woman permission to speak her truth. I hope that by sharing my story and my experience, she feels less alone in the world when she watches my film.  I guess my message is, speak your truth, I’m listening.

AF: You are fearless when it comes to your own life, your own past. “Grab ’em by the pussy” triggered millions & millions of women – triggered suppressed emotions, and secrets; triggered sexual violation, triggered repressed rage – how do you, as a woman, who wears her truth out-loud, wrap your head around the fact that a Predator is now sitting in the Oval Office? And how do we unite as women – aside from marches – and be seen & heard and change the paradigm?

DK: I have to say, there is a weird kind of relief to be able to point clearly at the thing so many of us have been saying, and screaming and whispering, and spitting, and puking, and crying for so long but were told we were crazy, or making it up, or being dramatic. Now, with this man elected to the highest office in our country, there is no denying what we are talking about.  Misogyny, for so long, has been the air we breathe.  And because it was the air we breathed we couldn’t see it, but it was killing us.  It is killing us.  But now we can see it. There it is. And now that we can see it and point to it we can begin to truly resist it.   And I do think making art is a big part of resisting. And I think women speaking their truth is an essential part of resisting. I think we are done. We won’t shut up. I think, I hope, we are moving towards a critical mass, where it will be impossible to silence us any longer. Look at what happened with Cosby, or Brock Turner.  I think every time one of us speaks our truth it gives another woman courage to speak hers.

AF: Talk about why you choose the films, the topics, you develop and ultimately make.

DK: People have been calling my first three films a trilogy.  And I guess that’s true in a way.  In fact, they are all dealing with sexual violence against women. And it’s clear they share the same psyche. Mine.  I feel that Hounddog was the 12 year old, Virgin was the 17 year old, and SPLit is the 24 year old part of myself wrestling with the exact same issue.  It’s a big issue.  And it’s a personal issue for me.  It’s an issue, that all of us who have experienced it know, can take a very long time, if ever, to transmute.  But I feel, for the most part these films have done that for me.  And I hope do that for the audience.  I am grateful I have art.  I have always said that as artist we get to take our shit and turn it into gold.  We get to take what can poison us and turn it in to something powerful and good, which, sometimes, I am lucky enough to get to do.  And even more lucky to have that transmutation move and mirror and inspire other people.

AF: You are a truth teller, have you always been a truth teller?

DK: No. I think for a very long time I hid large chunks of my truth and that almost killed me.  I became severely bulimic for over a decade to silence my truth.  Self-destructive in many other ways as well.  And then I found the theater. I feel the theater quite literally saved my life. I was able to express pain and rage with clarity and purpose for the first time.  I wrote my first one-act play and discovered that telling the truth wouldn’t kill me, it would in fact heal me.

AF: Ever since I can remember I have been a champion of women; my mission is wanting all women to awaken to their greatness. When did you ignite your passion – can you remember a defining moment when you knew, realized, that you would use every single inch of your life to tell women’s stories.

DK: My consciousness of the fact that I was doing that came very slowly. I found that in the beginning of writing my stories, I was just fighting for my life, in a way, fighting to keep my voice in tact.  The industry I was writing for didn’t want my voice, it couldn’t hear my voice.  And so instead of distorting my voice for them, I went about raising money and producing my films myself.  For example, I walked away from $5 million dollars 5 years in a row when trying to get Hounddog made because the money always came with the caveat that I had to cut the rape scene, which I refused to do. So I was really battling to protect my own voice and hear and honor it as deeply as I could, and express it as clearly as possible.  But what was so meaningful to me, once the films were out out in the world, were all the letters I received from women saying “thank you for telling my story.”  That gave me so much courage to keep telling my story and speaking my truth, knowing as I did so, I was telling a lot of other women’s stories as well.  I feel my first three films were about going deep inside and listening to myself.  Now that is done, I have shifted my focus outwards and am telling other women’s stories.  I am passionate about giving voice to as many women’s stories as possible.

AF: In Hillary Clinton we had a flawed, imperfect, but deeply passionate extraordinarily qualified candidate. A woman who had dedicated her entire life to politics and policies. And yes, made mistakes along the way. Who hasn’t? Why is it we – or better yet, WOMEN, accept deeply flawed, horrifically vulgar unqualified men over flawed BUT hugely qualified women? What’s your take on that?

DK: Misogyny.  Sexism.  Patriarchy.

SPLIT will be available March 21st from Candy Factory Films on DVD, VOD and Digital HD on All Leading Platforms Including iTunes and Amazon

View the Trailer Here

Amy Ferris is an author, editor, screenwriter and playwright. Her memoir, Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From A Midlife Crisis, was adapted into an Off-Broadway play in 2012. She was nominated for a best screenplay award from BET for her adaption of the film, Funny Valentines (Julie Dash, Director). She has contributed to numerous anthologies, and created the annual All Women’s Issue of Milford Magazine in 2000. Amy is on the advisory Board of the Women’s Media Center, The Board of Directors at Peters Valley School of Craft, and teaches a writing workshop, WOMEN WRITE/RIGHT THEIR LIVES. She co-founded The Milford Readers & Writers Festival In Milford, Pa.

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