CBS 4 News Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen takes us into the world of "Brave Miss World" and a campaign against rape to stand up and share one's story, one's strength, one's secrets.
"And now, Miss World, 1998, is Miss Isreal."
It was an announcement televised around the world. It sparked applause in the audience and tears of joy on stage for the beautiful young contestant who won the title, Linor Abargil. But behind her tears was a nightmare that would change the life of the beauty queen and ultimately trigger a mission for an award winning, impassioned filmmaker who happens to have a famous last name. Peck.
"I thought I was embarking on maybe a one year film following a beauty queen around but it turned out to be the most important film I could ever do," shares a reflective Cecilia Peck.
The passion and the film that has consumed her these past five years is the making of Brave Miss World.
It is a documentary Peck hopes will make a siesmic impact on the healing of women who are raped, including Linor Abargil. The film powerfully gives voice to their stories, over and over again.
Speaking to camera, one woman shared, "the police felt that I was not holding up my end of the bargain because I am blind and I could not describe the rapist."
Another woman revealed, "rape just makes you feel degraded and disgusting, someone taking everything away from you."
The film exposes their treatment in the system.
"She tried to convince me that I just had a weak moment and that it was my fault," said another survivor who added that authorities tried to talk her out of following through with charges.
CBS4 Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen recently sat down with Peck while she was visiting Miami. Gillen asked her about how the idea for this film, indeed the need for it, in Peck's opinion, made her stop everything else to do it.
"You know some work does feel like a calling, like you were really meant to do this, even if you might not have known it," said Peck.
It is not just the twinkle in Peck's eyes that make her reminiscent of her famous father, one of the most beloved and iconic American film actors, Gregory Peck. She aslo carries on his determination to shine light on hidden ills. Issues of injustice.
"You have to have that kind of passion about the story you're telling to do it and hopefully that all goes into the film and makes it powerful, I think anything that is really good takes a fight, don't you " she asks?
Gillen and Peck talked about the moving scenes and dialogue from the film To Kill A Mockingbird, considered one of the greatest and most influential films in American cinema history.
Playing attorney Atticus Finch, he intoned in court, as he defended a wrongly accused man charged with rape.
"In this country, our courts are the great levelers, and our courts all may not be created equal."
"He just did it all with such grace and dignity and I am always wondering 'how did he do it?' and trying to see if I can do that too," Peck shares with a humble and hopeful smile.
Many would say she is quite on her way.
Brave Miss World follows and documents the life of Miss Israel, beginning with her rape just six weeks before winning the crown of Ms. World.
As Linor Abargil recounts, "he tied my hands and put masking tape on my mouth, and I wouldn't speak and then he raped me again like this."
She was then 18 years old, and in a flash, a man she says she trusted to drive her to an airport in Italy en route home, nearly took her life.
Peck fills in the haunting details.
"He said there were no flights from Milan and he could not help her and he finally found one from Rome and he said I will drive you there. She was so grateful. She got in the car and it was the night and he pulled it over to a secluded place, took out a knife, a rope, tied her up, stabbed her, raped her."
Peck remains overwhelmed with admiration for Abargil who travels a journey from victim to survivor to advocate to activist.
"She was in trauma and we have footage of her with tears streaming down her face that she's being crowned and she was vowing to herself that one day she would tell her story and reach out to other survivors and encourage them not to stay silent. So that's where the movie started, it's her fight for justice and her reaching out to other women and men, boys and girls around the world," said Peck.
The role of Abargil's mother was critical. She urged her to not be silent, not feel ashamed and not hide the horror.
"The night it happened she called her mother from Milan and said 'He raped me and tried to kill me and stab me' and her mom said 'Linour don't take a shower, go to the police, go to the hospital, I believe you and I'm going to help you' and Lenour said that changed the rest of her life. It's a project that is about how you can pick up the pieces even if it is really hard," said Peck.
Despite her status as child of Hollywood royalty, and credentials as an actress and director, Peck is charmingly unassuming, humbled with the honor of telling stories about values and social justice.
Her real life hero is her father, the man and the actor. She said she will forever be impressed with his bringing to life Atticus Finch.
Gillen asked about her sentiments when she watches To Kill A Mockingbird, a set on which she visited as a little girl.
"When you see that, do you see a link between yourself and this amazing voice that your father gave important issues?"
"Well I hope so," replied Peck. "I hope I'm following in those footsteps. I mean I could never measure up but in my own way I was so blessed, so lucky to have as my dad the father who probably everybody wished they could have, he really was Atticus I mean that role was so close to him."
"He also became that person who really cared deeply about family and also about social justice. My dad always campaigned to get these films made that studios didn't really want to do like, "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Gentlemens Agreement" and "On the Beach" and so many films that dealt with issues that really were important for our nation to think about. Our culture, our world."
Just as Arbigil's mother is so critical in her life, Peck holds as the treasure in her heart, her mother, Veronique Passani. You see, her larger than life dad was matched by a petite and powerful mother. She shared with Gillen how there's was an enchanting match and marriage. Gillen summed it up this way,
"In looking at the life of your mom and dad I have come to think of you as a blend of two of the finest champagnes," said Gillen. "While your dad gets a lot of attention we know your mom had a lot of influence in his life, her work and she began as a very charming French journalist."
"My mom, I just lost her a year and a half ago, she was so beautiful and brilliant and witty and the best conversationalist and the best company and she and my dad had this incredible love story that lasted their whole life for 50 years," said Peck. "She met him when she was a very young journalist, she interviewed him, she use to say the interview that lasted a lifetime."
"He was her only love of her whole life, they were real soul mates, partners in every sense," continued Peck. "She rehearsed roles with him, traveled the world with him, they just found in each other the person that completed them. They had a gorgeous love story so I got to grow up believing in true love, that it exists, that it can endure."
Brave Miss World is dedicated to her mother, a film and campaign Cecilia Peck sees as a centerpiece for the world to speak up and share a voice.
What impact does she want to have?
"To erase the burden of shame around rape and give people a safe space to speak up. "You need help, you have got to find the right support system, but if your the victim of a rape or sexual assault you can go on," said Peck.
"And I think when you find the right people, like I found you now Michele to get this wonderful message out there and what you can accomplish is limitless."
The film is earning prestigious awards at film festivals around the world, including at the 9th annual Women's International Film and Art Festival in Miami, where she and Gillen first met. Peck credits a dedicated team who would not give up on getting the film made. She says she will be forever grateful to Producer and Editor Inbal Lessner and the film's Executive Producers including Geralyn Dreyfous, Regina Kulik Scully, Lati Grobman and Irving Bauman.
For more details on the film and campaign go to www.bravemissworld.com
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