Interview: Peter Sattler talks Camp X-Ray and casting Kristen Stewart

Peter Sattler's Camp X-Ray is both an illuminating and honest depiction of the violence and inhumanity experienced by detainees of a camp in Guantanamo Bay.

Part of the 'debate' category of this year's BFI London Film Festival, the plot device lies in the telling of this story though the eyes of a young female Private, Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) who is a fresh recruit keen to toughen herself up in post-9/11 America.  As we live through Amy's experience, we are privy to the still-male dominated and sometimes sexist world of the US army.  Struggling to find her place within the rigid structure of the POV camp, Stewart strikes up  an unlikely alliance with a detainee (a must-see Peyman Maadi), bringing to light the fact that she may have more in common with the prisoners than her actual comrades.

I spoke to Peter (writer and director of Camp X-Ray) about his inspirations and how he managed to cast one of the most popular actresses of the moment...

How are you finding the festival this year?
I am loving being here!  It's really important for me that we screen at festivals, especially for this film... The people going to festivals are the gatekeepers of taste.  Many theatre go-er's just don't have time to go and see hundreds of movies so they reply on word of mouth.  We didn't have the money needed to market this film, so festivals are essential for us and it's great to get the film out there are see what the reactions to it are.

How did you end up casting Kristen as the lead?
It worked out for me.  I was asked what my ultimate dream cast was, as I didn't really have anyone in mind while I wrote it.  I assumed it would be micro-budget so I didn't expect the star to be the biggest star in the universe!  I chose Kristen as my dream casting choice, and thankfully once asked she agreed.  I think she's phenomenal and I was obsessed by her performance in The Runaways.  She is a very open actress and so dedicated to creating a real and honest moment in her scene.  She wants her character to be authentic and it was a dream to have her in this role.

How did you find your way from big-budget Hollywood film to working on this?
I worked my way up from PA level, working literally any job I could!  I got to work on these huge feature films and that became my training.  I suddenly started having a better idea of how stories were structured and how much to budget for different sets.  On the other hand, I had my film school mentality of how I wanted a certain frame to look and the aesthetics of a scene.  It all helped to hone my ideas as a filmmaker.

What are your thoughts on the industry at the moment?
I love popcorn movies- big budget, mainstream features, but I also love Independent movies.  There doesn't seen to be much in he middle, which is a shame.  At the same time, it is so much easier these days to watch films online, find out about film and build an audience about film.  The industry has changed but it's important to see both sides.

So how did your idea for Camp X-Ray come about?  At which point did you start thinking about it as a viable option for a movie?
I got the idea for Camp X-Ray from a documentary on Guantanamo Bay.  While I was watching it, I was compelled by the mundanely of life there, for both the guards and the detainees.  What were they doing with their time?  What kind of conversations were they having?  The more I thought about it as a subject, the more I saw a three-act play in my mind.