SUNDANCE 2007

Ain't Nuthin' for the 'Hounddog'

Still no sale at Sundance for the controversial movie, and critics begin to question its marketability, but not because of the rape scene

Dakota Fanning, Robin Wright, ... | Robin Wright Penn and Dakota Fanning in ''Hounddog''
Robin Wright Penn and Dakota Fanning in ''Hounddog''

No movie arrived at the Sundance '07 fest with more controversy than Hounddog, the so-called ''Dakota Fanning Rape Movie'' in which the 12-year-old actresses stars as an Elvis-obsessed little girl growing up in the 1950s South. Leading up to the film's Jan. 22 premiere, writer-director Deborah Kampmeier expected protests outside the theater, as well as inside, thinking that maybe even a few moviegoers would stand up and boo. But as the lights went down at Park City's Racquet Club Monday night, there was not a single peep of dissent, not even during the rape scene, which turned out to be brief and devoid of graphic shots, or during the Q&A with Kampmeier, Fanning, and other cast members following the screening.

For Kampmeier, the subdued atmosphere was a good sign. ''We were prepared for the worst, and I think we got the best,'' she told EW the day after the premiere. ''I think people were expecting something more controversial, and it's like, 'Oh, that's it?' '' Added Fanning: ''I hope people weren't let down!''

By Tuesday afternoon, however, it looked as though some people were disappointed — but not because of the movie's lack of exploitive violence. ''Hounddog is an indigestible gumbo of Southern Gothic ingredients seasoned with snake oil, biblical hash, and thoroughly unpalatable spice,'' wrote Variety film critic Todd McCarthy. ''Aside from Fanning and the controversy, the film has nothing going for it commercially.''

Ouch.

It's not the kind of review a filmmaker hopes for when debuting any movie at a festival, especially one up for acquisition. At press time, no distribution deal for Hounddog had been announced, but when Kampmeier met with EW before the Variety review appeared online, she seemed confident that there was interest from buyers. ''We've got my lawyers on it, talking to people,'' she said. ''Look, some people are going to love this film, some people are going to hate it. Some people it will resonate with, some people it won't.''

As for Fanning, she seems to be weathering the after-storm just fine, thank you. But she isn't ready to call Hounddog a definitive turning point in her career. ''I guess people will see me a little bit older now, but I'm not all grown up yet,'' the precocious pre-teen explained. ''I just want to keep taking steps forward and doing what I believe in.''

Originally posted Jan 24, 2007