By Mark Barger
NBC News Channel
The Sundance Film Festival gets attention every year as independent film producers screen their films and try to score big deals to get them shown in theaters around the country. This week, one of those films has had people buzzing. The movie "Hounddog" shows young actress Dakota Fanning being raped.
Moviegoers know Dakota Fanning as the big screen equivalent of the kid next door. But the 12-year-old's newest role has a decidedly adult edge. Her character is raped on screen.
The controversy stems from the small budget drama "Hounddog". It casts Fanning as a free spirited Elvis fan living with a poor, abusive father in the 1960's south.
"The girl's already a phenomenal actress. She doesn't need to be doing rape scenes, but she's trusting people with her career and there's no reason to have this out there," said Ben Ferguson, Radio America host.
The rape scene is the major reason it took Hounddog's writer and director ten years to get financing for her film. She defends the scene as a small, but crucial element.
"I'm thinking about telling my story as best as I can," said Deborah Kampmeier, writer-director.
But one former child star is outraged.
"If I did this in my neighborhood and called myself an artist and hired a 12 year old to do this, I'd be in jail," said Paul Petersen, former child star.
Fanning herself as a simple message for those criticizing the film sight unseen.
"I hope they can see the movie, because I think the truth becomes very clear to them, or just not judge something until you see it with your own eyes," said Dakota Fanning.
Some critics who did, at this week's Sundance film festival, were unimpressed.
"It is a bad movie. It is not a well made movie," said Wesley Morris, Boston Globe.
"It's a compendium of southern gothic clichés that doesn't hit the mark," said Glenn Kenny, Premiere Magazine.
But "Hounddog" has hit the mark when it comes to causing Controversy.
Local authorities in Wilmington, North Carolina, where the film was shot, say no laws were broken in the filming of the scene in question. The final version of the scene in the film is not graphic and shows no nudity. It's darkly lit and shows only Fanning's face and hands.
Filmmakers have been screening "Hounddog" at this week's Sundance film festival in Utah in hopes of landing a deal with a major studio to distribute the film to theaters nationwide. If no deal is made, the film may wind up going straight to home video and DVD.
NBC News Channel