Abigail Breslin as Trish Weir in Miranda’s Victim.

Real detective films about grated have been told and retold. And yet, veteran director michelle danner discovered a story that had never been portrayed on screen.

His film Miranda’s Victim tells the story of Patricia Weir who, against all odds, brought Ernesto Miranda, her kidnapper and rapist, to justice. But after his conviction in 1963, Miranda’s attorney sought to overturn his case, stating that the evidence against him had been obtained under duress – and Miranda was not told of his right to remain silent. Ultimately, this case led to the “Miranda warning” – the legal requirement for police to read someone their rights upon arrest. And, as the film shows, he protects the innocent, as well as the guilty.

Miranda’s Victim premiered at the 2023 Santa Barbara Film Festival and won Danner Best Female Director at the LA Independent Women Film Awards. It continues its festival throughout the summer of 2023 with upcoming screenings at the Nevada Women’s Film Festival; Cinequest Film Festival, Accolade Global Film Competition, Madrid International Film Festival, and others.

Danner spoke with MS. on the film’s inspiration, its portrayal of violence against women, and her perspective on being a woman in the film industry.

Michele Meek: Can you tell us what brought you to this story?

Michelle Dance: Well, I’ve always been fascinated, interested and disturbed by crime and mystery stories. Immediately I could tell that this was an important story that had never been told.

In my previous film titled The runner, I used the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, and I never asked where it came from. But one of the writers, George Kolber, did. He went to find the person it had happened to and realized that she had never told her story.

It’s just meant to be in life. Despite all the scolding I received from my family about all the crime shows I watched, it was supposed to be that a movie like this with this subject matter should be offered to me. And immediately, I said yes, I want to do it.

Then I started working on the script and talked to a casting director about putting together a casting. And a lot of my top picks are on screen. When that happens for a filmmaker, there’s nothing more exhilarating than that.

Soft: Why do you think this is an important story to tell now?

Dance: It’s so rare that you find a story that hasn’t been told. But that story led to what we call Miranda civil rights and liberties for those arrested, whether innocent or not, as we show in the film. I enjoyed that the story had karmic justice, so it all came full circle because sometimes, as we know, our justice system can be flawed.

And it inspires people to raise their voices, especially women. How much did it cost, you know, this wonderful, brave woman, Patricia Weir, in 1963, and again in 1965, to tell her story, tell the truth, and raise her voice?

These stories must continue to be told to empower people. It was hard in 1963 to come forward – and how hard is it for someone today? It’s always like that. Yes, we want to believe that things have changed. They evolved, of course. There has been the #MeToo movement, but there is still time. I saw a documentary not too long ago about a lot of women who had told their stories, and the roles are reversed. And they are the ones who are accused of having invented this, and they are the ones who are condemned.

The justice system can be erratic. In this story, it’s great because justice prevails and people are committed to doing the right thing.

It’s so rare that you find a story that hasn’t been told. But that story led to what we call Miranda rights and civil liberties for those arrested, whether innocent or not.

michelle danner

Soft: Can you tell us about the research you did for the making of this film?

dance: As part of my research, I went to Arizona, I went to Phoenix, I went to the Paramount Theater, where she worked, and, and I got on the bus and I went to the bus stop where he kidnapped her and made the trip to the desert. And I mean, I was sitting there at the bus stop and it just started to get really emotional because I was thinking, if she’d taken a bus earlier…

Soft: In addition to the explicit aggression, some more subtle threads run through the film, such as domestic violence. For example, we get the feeling that Patricia’s husband is unstable at home – and we get the same feeling from Twila’s testimony about Miranda. Can you talk about how you made choices about how you wanted these threads to be represented?

Dance: I wanted to show what it cost Patricia to have the courage to do this, and that he didn’t support her. A woman’s place in the 50s, 60s, and sometimes even today, is to be submissive to what her husband wants. She challenged all of that. So it was important to show the obstacle she had to overcome.

As for Twila, played by the wonderful Taryn Manning, she also portrayed a woman who took her power and truly found her voice, which is scary in 1966 in a courtroom with her abuser.

Soft: Absolutely. I don’t know how she had the courage to do that when he could have been released from prison. Because he’s such a violent person, you don’t know what he’s capable of.

Dance: LAW. When you’re dealing with a joker, you don’t know. And when you have children, you want to protect them, right?

Soft: Of course.

I found it very interesting that you didn’t describe the sexual assault at all at the beginning of the film. But then there’s the decision to include a more graphical representation at the end. I’m curious about the thought behind this, whether to include it at all, or include it here but not there.

Dance: My instinct was absolutely not to go all the way and that everything had to lead to it. The film is more about his fight for justice. In the end, she had a very sad, tragic and violent event, but I thought it needed some construction.

I think we talked about it so much in the film that it didn’t have to be violent? Do you think it was violent from your point of view?

Soft: I mean, I think every time I see sexual assault on screen, it looks violent to me.

Dance: It was graphic, but I always knew I was going to portray it in a more artistic way. We scheduled this scene for the last day of filming because I knew a lot of people were nervous about it and even a lot of the crew, they left. They didn’t want to see. It made everyone nervous.

I was going to take the shooting day to shoot it, but because we were shooting in New Jersey and there were thunderstorms, we lost time. So now I find myself having all these setups on the very last day of filming. I walk on set – and we have 27 setups and everyone, my cinematographer, my first AD [assistant director] are like, “No, you can’t. You can’t get it. It’s not going to happen.” And I said, “Oh, it’s going to happen – just watch.” And I was just really strong that day. I mean, I’ve been strong all along because you have to be, you know?

I’ve always said that making movies isn’t for the faint hearted.

Soft: What was your experience as a woman in the film industry?

dance: As a woman, you must continue to fight to make your voice heard. Obviously we have a problem when older white men make decisions for women and minorities. I think it’s just important for women to keep being strong and to keep fighting and not taking no for an answer.

I can’t be too specific, but recently I was negotiating something, and I just had to fight for it. It had to be a hard no. I had to say no, I’m sorry. This is the line. That’s what I need. And that’s all. Maybe women just have to keep coming to terms with the fact that they’re going to have to keep fighting more.

Soft: What are you going to work on next?

Dance: I develop projects and I read a lot and, but I recently signed on to make a film about space called Helios. This is the story of a woman who talks about saving humanity.

I’m really lucky to be able to do what I love. I am also teaching acting masterclasses over the next few months. So when you get to do the thing you love, you can only feel gratitude.

Special thanks to Meg Grasberger for her help with transcription and editing.


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