Director Peter Sattler has dropped into Miami to introduce his debut feature film Camp X-Ray, which stars Kristen Stewart, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema tonight, Friday. I spoke to him the day before, via phone. He spoke from his hotel room where he was working on the third act of his new script. He’s on his way to the Abu-Dhabi Film Festival with his film after his Miami appearance, which — if the weather clears up — should make for a nice pit stop before heading on to the Capital of United Arab Emirates. “I’m really excited to see what the reaction there is to the film,” he noted. “It’ll be quite a different audience to see the movie with.”
The film had its debut at Sundance earlier this year and has since traveled to other festivals around the globe. Sattler and Stewart attended several screenings. As the film begins its run in theaters and VOD, Sattler reflected on the reception of the film at the screenings he has attended. “It’s been great. A lot of weepy eyes at the end of the film, but everyone’s responded to it really well. Depending where you go, it’s interesting, people laugh at different things I think, internationally and whatnot, but generally the reaction’s been really good. It had a very universal message of just finding commonality in a stranger that transcends language and cultural barriers.”
Camp X-Ray focuses on the arrival of a new group of guards at Guantanamo Bay eight years after the attacks of Sept. 11. Stewart does impressive work capturing the experience of a wary but tough private whose mission is to “protect” the detainees from themselves. They are basically on 24-hour suicide watch. The film is all about the tension between the men detained and not officially charged with any crimes — though they are suspected of terrorism due to evidence that remains classified — and the guards who watch them. Eventually, Stewart’s character, Private Cole, strikes up a conversational relationship with one of the detainees, Amir (an intense Peyman Moaadi).
It’s a film that pays off thanks to Sattler’s attention to detail. With this film, Sattler does an impressive job in recreating Guantanamo Bay on a set. “Honestly, I did a lot of good, old-fashioned leg work,” he said of his research. “I read every memoir that I could find. I looked at every documentary that I could find. I got a hold of the standard operating procedure down there, which WikiLeaks put out, which was super helpful, and so from doing all those things, you can start to piece together some of the little facts and details about what life is like and really how it looks down there.”
But what gives the film its power comes from something bigger, as revealed in Sattler’s brilliant script and the performances of Moaadi and the too often underrated Stewart. Actual guards from Gitmo have actually reached out to Sattler with praise for his work. “I think the bigger challenge is how do you capture the feeling of what it’s like down there,” he added. “That’s something that you kind of have to intuit to some degree, to read between the lines. But, luckily, after the movie’s come out, I’ve heard from a few guards who’ve been down there that really complimented us on being able to capture that feeling and that strange conflict that these soldiers find themselves in, trying to operate in an honorable way in very uncomfortable and uneasy situations.”
You can read much more of my conversation with Sattler including why he pursued Stewart for the role and what she brought to the character. Jump through the “Cultist” banner below, which published my Q&A with Sattler earlier today:
Camp X-Ray opens exclusively in South Florida this Friday at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. The red carpet premiere is tonight at 7 p.m. For details of the premiere visit the event page here. The movie is also available on video on demand and has opened or will soon open at other theaters across the U.S. For screening details visit this link.