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An open window on a filmmaker's trauma

Mia Goldman, in her feature writing-directing debut, seeks meaning in her 1989 sexual assault.

July 16, 2007|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

As an experienced movie editor, Mia Goldman sifts through a story's scattered fragments, pulling them together into a coherent whole. On "Open Window," Goldman's duties were different -- she directed rather than edited the film -- but her goal was the same. The story she was trying to make sense of, though, was her own sexual assault.

A few years after Goldman was raped in 1989, the veteran editor -- her credits include "Choose Me," "The Big Easy" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" -- began writing "Open Window." She never saw the film as an act of therapy, but healing is very much at the center of the story.

The film stars Robin Tunney as Izzy, a photographer engaged to an academic named Peter (Joel Edgerton). When a man (Matt Keeslar) sneaks into Izzy's home photo studio one night and attacks her, Izzy's world and relationships begin to fall apart. Debuting tonight on Showtime, "Open Window" focuses not only on the horrible emotional toll of such a violent assault but also on the critical personal choices people can -- and cannot make -- in its aftermath.

Goldman, the 52-year-old daughter of Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman ("Melvin and Howard" and a shared credit on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), bristles at any suggestion that making the film was somehow therapeutic.

"That drives me crazy," says Goldman, who makes her feature screenwriting and directing debut on the film. "It wasn't cathartic. What the movie was for me was a way to find meaning in what happened to me and reach out to the millions of people who have had this happen to them. It's not about recovery. It's about becoming better than you ever were. Unless we accept its commonness, it will continue to be a shameful act -- something to be embarrassed about. The perpetrator should be embarrassed and ashamed, not the victim."

"Open Window" does include incidents from Goldman's own attack, and though she didn't volunteer to her cast and crew that the movie was semiautobiographical, that fact slowly revealed itself. "There are things in the movie that did happen to me," she says, "and a lot of things that were made up." Goldman told her attacker (who was never caught) that she wouldn't report him if he let her live. "That was the thing that made him decide not to kill me," Goldman says. The film includes a similar scene. "In all honesty, it was worse than the movie."

When Tunney and Keeslar were rehearsing the attack, Goldman at one point pulled Keeslar aside, telling him he was being too rough with Tunney and could just as menacingly whisper his threats. "I said, 'I speak from experience,' " she says. For the most part, though, in making "Open Window," Goldman approached it as a fictional work separate from her own past. "What I didn't want them to feel," Goldman says of her actors, "is that I was going to guide them with the weight of what I knew."

Like many independent films, particularly those exploring such an emotionally wrenching topic, "Open Window" did not come together easily. Tunney remained on the project for four years while Goldman was looking -- and failing -- to attract financing. "The hardest thing about making the movie was making the deal, getting the money," she says. "Everyone told me, 'Anything that has rape in it is a TV movie.' " But Goldman was determined to make a feature, and she learned part of her perseverance from her father. "He gets up at 2 a.m. and starts writing at 4 a.m.," Goldman says of the 74-year-old.

She says she revised her "Open Window" script as many as 40 times. "I thought I would never be as good [as my father], so why would I even bother trying? It was a real battle for me."

Reviewing the film at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, where it was first shown, Variety in a mostly favorable notice called it "a righteous, genuine and emotionally precise movie."

Goldman, who served as an editorial consultant on the nature movie "Arctic Tale," says her next movie will be significantly less serious. "Tito," which Goldman wrote and will direct, is a romantic story about an Argentine dog walker. For now, though, she is showing her movie around the country, always eager to meet with moviegoers whose lives parallel "Open Window's" story. She says that in almost every screening someone will approach her and tearfully recount her own experience.

"What I really wanted to do," Goldman says, "is to make a movie that could heal people, that gave hope."

john.horn@latimes.com

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