When filmmaker Allison Anders was 12, she hung out with the "rough kids" at school, smoked cigarettes and made out with the boys. Though Anders wasn't a wide-eyed innocent, she was very much a typical preteen.
Anders' world was shattered at that tender age when she was gang-raped in a neighborhood house by teenage boys she knew.
"I didn't even know that rape is what happened," says Anders, who has co-written and directed such well-received independent films as "Gas Food Lodging" and "Mi Vida Loca." "I didn't even know the word 'rape.' "
Because of the severity of the trauma, Anders didn't remember "whole chunks of things and certain parts" of the experience. The rape, though, haunted her and defined her life. After completing the film "Grace of My Heart" five years ago, she hit a final crisis.
"I just felt like my gut instinct was, if I'm not going to die, if I am not going to drink myself to death, then I have to go back there [to the house] and deal with it," she explains. "It was an amazing experience."
The result of her visit to that house in Cocoa Beach, Fla., is "Things Behind the Sun." The drama, which screened in January to acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, premieres Saturday on Showtime.
Kim Dickens stars as Sherry McGrale, a hard-living, alcoholic singer-songwriter who is beginning to get national attention for her song about her hazy memories of being raped as a girl. Gabriel Mann plays Owen, a talented Hollywood music magazine writer who tells his boss he knows who raped Sherry and is assigned to write a story. Owen is also haunted by his own secrets and memories of Sherry's rape. Don Cheadle is Chuck, Sherry's manager and former lover, who protects her with a fierce tenacity.
Anders shot the film in Cocoa Beach, even re-creating the harrowing rape sequence in the house where she had been attacked. Anders borrowed other locations from her past: Sherry resides in the Blue Heron apartments, where Anders lived. The production also shot in the same school where she and her perpetrators went to seventh grade.
For Dickens, playing Sherry was "definitely rewarding and definitely challenging. I just knew it was just the greatest part to get to play. With women, [these types of roles] are few and far between."
Anders, says Dickens, was a wealth of information about the effects of rape. The director also suggested that she and the rest of the cast read two books about the subject, including "Courage to Heal."
"It helped me understand how that sort of trauma manifests itself later in life," says Dickens. "That was helpful to have sort of an understanding of it, because whatever Sherry was oing, there was nothing malicious about it. It was just her way of trying to feel better from one moment to the next."
Anders completed the first draft of "Things Behind the Sun" with her collaborator Kurt Voss five years ago. "I had various people attached; they would drop out and it would set me back. But I have no regrets."
In fact, Anders acknowledges that she probably wasn't ready to shoot the film until last year. "I had done more healing myself and I was pretty much done with the experience," she says. "I was done with the trauma."
Anders hopes the film helps to destroy a lot of the myths surrounding rape, especially the misconception that most rapists are minorities and strangers to their victims. "In fact," says Anders, "most rapes are committed by white, middle-class males with no weapons. They are known to the victim. The rapes people are so worried about are so few and far between. Even those kind of rapes--stranger rapes--are still statistically white males."
With the completion of "Things Behind the Sun," Anders has closed that dark chapter in her life. "I think it's done," she says emphatically. "It only took me 32 years, but I can say now that I am done!"
"Things Behind the Sun" can be seen Saturday night at 9 on Showtime. The film has been rated 'R' (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17).