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Director Tries To Keep Guantanamo Politics Out Of 'Camp X-Ray'
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Director Tries To Keep Guantanamo Politics Out Of 'Camp X-Ray'

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Director Tries To Keep Guantanamo Politics Out Of 'Camp X-Ray'

Director Tries To Keep Guantanamo Politics Out Of 'Camp X-Ray'
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In a new movie, Camp X-Ray, Kristen Stewart plays a guard at Guantanamo who lets one of the detainees get to her. NPR's Scott Simon talks to director Peter Sattler about his first feature film.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a new movie out next week, "Camp X-Ray." It goes inside the Guantanamo Bay prison camp amid reports this week that it might be closed. But the film is not a documentary. It stars Kristen Stewart, but it's nothing like "Twilight." She plays a U.S. military guard who's just been stationed at Guantanamo. And though she's cautioned, this is a war zone, they were here before you were in high school and they will test you and best you, she lets one detainee - number 471 - get to her. He's played by Peyman Moaadi, an Iranian actor.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAMP X-RAY")

PEYMAN MOAADI: (As Ali Amir) You don't like to talk? Always is like that. Why? I don't know why you guys - you don't like to talk with us. You and us - we are both stuck here. It is boring for both of us.

KRISTEN STEWART: (As Amy Cole) You and me got nothing to say to each other.

SIMON: This is the first feature film from the writer and director Peter Sattler. He joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

PETER SATTLER: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: I have to begin with an industry question. What is the pitch meeting like when you walk in and say, OK, I've got a great idea - Guantanamo?

SATTLER: Well, that's the thing you know, this is an independent film. It's the type of movie that honestly, no studio would really want to make, you know? Because I think on the surface people always think, you know, how do you get someone to go see a movie about Guantanamo Bay. There's just - there's a risk there. There's a challenge there. But that's part of the reason when we approached the film was to really try and make it accessible in a way and make the film about people instead of politics.

SIMON: What kind of preparation did you go through to get a script together, create a storyline?

SATTLER: Yeah, it just really took a lot of research, you know? One big asset we had was WikiLeaks leaked the standard operating procedure for Guantanamo Bay, which is basically just an instruction manual on how to run the place. Which is hugely helpful because it gives you all those details - timetables, paperwork, all these great things. But I think the bigger challenge - to try and capture that spiritual zeitgeist of what does it feel like down there? 'Cause that's really what the movie's about. It's about the impact of life down there and what this place does and how it changes these people, both the detainees and soldiers.

SIMON: Why do we never learn why Ali - detainee 471 so beautifully portrayed by Peyman Moaadi - why do we never learn why he's in there?

SATTLER: First off because you know, this movie - the idea is really to put yourself in the shoes of Kristen's character and she would never know.

SIMON: Is that true, she would never know?

SATTLER: No. How would she? You know, these soldiers and detainees, they don't know anything. Like, they get no information. All they know is - he's locked in here, here's the history of how he's acted in here, I can tell you whether or not he's been violent or not while he's been down here.

But they wouldn't know their history. All they know is what these guys would tell them and try and tell them. But I think from a larger point of view, it was important to me to say that it doesn't really matter. And part of that reason is, I really wanted to make sure that the film remained very a-political. So for instance, if in the movie we said that he's guilty, he did this, well, then you'd be like, oh yeah - he should be down there. But if I said he's innocent, then the movie would be making this statement like, oh, it's a tragedy that he's down here, this is so wrong.

SIMON: But when you decline to make politics part of it, that is making a political statement, too.

SATTLER: Well, everything is political. You know, everything in the world is political and especially the second you say the word Guantanamo Bay, politics just pops into it. Even by not saying it, you're right - that is a political statement, but I think what I was trying to do is avoid partisanship. You know, everyone looks at Guantanamo Bay and they're not trying to figure out, what do we do about it? They're trying to figure out who's right and who's wrong. Everyone's trying to pick a side in this thing and I didn't want to pick a side. I wanted to say, look, both sides are wrong. Both sides are good guys and bad guys. You know, the U.S. is right and wrong. A lot of these detainees are right and wrong.

So that was kind of my - that's why, the reason I'm saying it's - it's not a-political, it's bipartisan. Let's say that.

SIMON: You almost have to turn away from the screen to watch the force-feeding scene.

SATTLER: Yeah. Yeah and that's something that, you know, in trying to do this film, you want to be honest and you have to show some things that are just a reality of life down there. And I knew we had to include some reference to the force-feeding.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAMP X-RAY")

STEWART: (As Amy Cole) Well, that makes this day five. Y'all know what's coming next. You want to call it off?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Foreign language spoken).

STEWART: (As Amy Cole) Take that as a no.

SATTLER: It's such a quandary. It's such this irony, you know? You have to violently make someone live. I know it's been coming up in the news a lot with the court case about releasing the videos and everything. And again, it's just one of those just absurd Kafka-esque situations where you don't know what the right answer is. It's this violent thing but also it's like, what, are you going to let him die? You going to hurt him to make him live? There's no good answer and I was just fascinated by just the strange conflicting feelings that come up when you have a scene like that.

SIMON: There's some pretty intense moments of conversation between Cole and Ali the detainee. And I wonder, since at another point in the film, she has cautioned, your interactions with the detainees are going to be seen on camera, wouldn't they avoid that?

SATTLER: Well, yes but at the same time, there's an interesting thing. You know, they do kind of chat down there. And the research that I did, it's like, yeah these people talk because they're just stuck down there. I think it's just the inherent nature of humanity. We have these two characters that are just lonely and inside of this very cold, uncaring institution. You know, we show Kristen's character start to feel isolated from some of her squad mates as well. And just the idea of like, you know, these are two characters that don't belong where they are. They don't feel like they have anyone to talk to. So you know, it's like any port in a storm so they reach out to each other.

SIMON: Yeah. Peter Sattler, he is the writer and director of the new movie "Camp X-Ray" with Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

SATTLER: Thank you for having me.

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