Every day through the end of the Sundance Film Festival, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing two interviews with Sundance ’06 competition filmmakers. Sixty filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview and each was sent the same questions.
Patricia Foulkrod directed “The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends,” screening in the Independent Film Competition: Documentary section at the ’06 Sundance Film Festival. The film explores the costs of training soldiers to kill and how soldiers readjust to their lives back home when they return from the Iraq War. Foulkrod has produced a number of other documentaries and independent feature films.
How old are you? Where are you from?
Age — no way. I know who Howdy Doody is, and I remember getting under my beige school desk during the Cold War for a drill. It’s interesting how that foreign evil “enemy” keeps changing accents and keeps our corporations in the business of war …
I was born in New Jersey, grew up in Montclair, moved to NYC right after college, thought I would be in publishing or teaching James Joyce or William Butler Yeats at some nice beautiful campus with Russell Crowe as my genius husband, and a few smart kids taking care of us once the senility kicked in.
What jobs have you had? What were the circumstances that led you to become a filmmaker?
My first job was as the assistant secretary to the president of Channel 13/WNET in NYC. I could not type or spell, and there was no spell check or computers. Just carbons. On one occasion, I think he had to do his own letter. Within months, Channel 13 undertook its first LIVE, 10-day auction/fundraiser at Astoria Studios. My job was on the stage floor helping talent with their lines on the teleprompter before they went live. Everyone said they could read a teleprompter. Everyone lied. But I was 24 and met everyone from John Cassavetes to Dick Cavett, and I was hooked on the adrenaline of production. I volunteered for everything that would get me into a studio or on location. Four years later, I left as an associate producer in news and public affairs to go work for David Garth, a political consultant more well-known than many of his political candidates. I worked on several campaigns and learned a lot.
I went on to coordinate/line produce for small production companies making nonprofit and industrial films, shooting a lot in Europe and the Middle East. Along the way, my friend David Harris, [who] was the son of Jean Harris, who was accused of murdering the Scarsdale Diet Doctor — he showed me something she wrote when she went to prison. I focused on one line — “What happens to children when their mothers go to prison.” It was 1984.
Five years later, “They’re Doing My Time” was completed as a one-hour documentary with my own money from production jobs, a CPB grant and a finishing grant from Women in Film and CFI Labs. It aired nationally on PBS and made into a movie of the week for CBS starring Angela Bassett. CBS called it “Locked Up: A Mother’s Rage.” Therein lies the difference between independent and network.
During this time, I came to California to line produce a film for Disney’s EPCOT Center [called] “The Living Seas.” I was to stay nine months. Twenty-one years later, I have line produced, co-produced and produced 10 feature films. In between, I co-produced “The Native Americans,” a six-part historical documentary series for Turner Broadcasting. I took a year off in 2000 to teach in juvenile hall which made the film business look like a spa. I started a meditation class for kids in prison and teach meditation to incarcerated juveniles in the LA area. From 2002 till now, I have worked in various capacities as an activist and began this film in 2003.
How did you learn about filmmaking?
I have been producing since 1989. I learned to be a producer from being a waitress. Deliver the coffee without the milk and go for a smoke — you can ruin the whole deal. You just think all the time about things they don’t even know they need — until they do — and then everyone’s happy you knew.
I learned to direct from having my heart broken and reshaped a few times … Not just in romance, but as life and your career and creativity turns out to be not A or B but Q. If you can jump up and film just exactly what is in front of you, or accept the weirdness and humility that happens to you and your film when you get in the cutting room, and see what you did versus what you thought you did — things will be less frustrating and more fun … Plus, you are doing this with no money and none of the PC of a Bhutanese monk with an alms bowl — so in my limited experience, what I thought I wanted is often not nearly as exciting as who and what shows up while we are waiting for the light to change.
There is an energy from the people and the world that is your focus, and that energy is more in control than you are. You’re just a curious visitor if you’re lucky, and you must decide if you can genuinely accept what you find — even if it is different than what you came for or particularly if you don’t like who or what you find. And you often don’t get what you want on the first interview — so the question becomes living with what is rather than what you think you know. And not giving up.
I have also directed second unit on two features, and it is just a different dynamic than producing. The crew wants to help you get what you need when you are the director. When you are the producer, the crew wants you to get what they need.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
I read author Jim Hightower’s newsletter about six months after the invasion into Iraq. He talked about the lack of body armor and the lack of equipment and the number of casualties, and no one was writing or talking about this at the time. And I literally was shaking that no one knew this, and that these soldiers were so vulnerable. So I do what I always do to make sure I don’t disappear to Baja. I start telling people, “I am going to make a film about our invisible injured soldiers.” And a few friends wrote me a check, and the next thing I was at Walter Reed Hospital in D.C. taking my first soldier back from Iraq to lunch. We went to a Baja Fresh, and he was sweating and having panic attacks, and I wanted him to be OK, and he wasn’t. Next, I was going to dinner with many amputees who were recovering at Walter Reed, and the amount of injuries and the severity of them — and the look on the faces of their young wives who were now their caregivers, many looking barely legal [enough] to drink — took my breathe away.
So I watched “The Best Years of Our Lives” and realized little had changed. The only people soldiers still feel comfortable being with after [going to] war are each other, and families and friends love them but [they] hope they will get better and get on with it when it’s actually a lifetime struggle for many.
So I raised some money and shot, raised some money and cut a trailer, raised some money and shot. After a year, I knew my focus was to be on what happens to people who kill or witness killing in combat. I became very aware that this country still goes to war as if it is WWII, and we are the good guys, and there is an evil man who will get us, if we don’t get him.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
The biggest challenge I have faced is making a film about killing and war while it is still going on and changing every week so [there are] many issues pertaining to this war. So I focused on the training and the natural process of losing one’s humanity in the environment of war from a soldier’s point of view. And the other challenge was making it something we could relate to even though most of us have never experienced war.
Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance.
I was in my car of course — in LA. I was driving to meet someone about my film and Caroline Libresco from programming called me and it was about 6 on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving so there was that holiday feeling, and I felt like Santa arrived a month early.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
I believe Sundance understands the importance of why this film needs to be seen now! Will the war go on? I don’t know. However, my film is timely because people want to hear, and have not heard, what soldiers have to say — not just about the war — but what it has done to their hearts, their lives and their families. So my hope is that HBO/Shelia Nevins/Showtime/an independent distribution company will recognize this is not just another Iraq War movie — which is absurd to hear anyone say this already — but that in the big picture it is a timeless, good documentary that can reach many people. So my hope is that someone will recognize the value of this film as we approach the THIRD anniversary of the Iraq war … March 19-20.
My film is not about the right or the left or the blue or the red. It is about the fact that 430,000 soldiers have already been released by the military — thousands and thousands are wounded physically and mentally — and we have not even started an exit strategy. Many of them have either killed or witnessed killing, and they need help that we are not providing. I want us to take responsibility for these soldiers and their families and stop arguing about who did it to them. One would not waste five minutes on that debate if it was your son or daughter who needed help.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
My definition of independent film is that you are usually in the position of being the seeker and not the sought.
What are a few other films you’re hoping to see at Sundance and why?
I want to see “small town gay bar,” interested and know the producer.
Kirby Dick’s film [“This Film Is Not Yet Rated”] — because I never miss an opportunity to say or write his name, and I have known Kirby for many years and think he is a true Renaissance man.
Who are a few people that you would most like to meet at Sundance?
Tom Waits — if he is coming because his song is in my movie, and I have never met him, and I am so grateful it would a thrill a bunch to see him there.
People from Participant Films because I think they do really good stuff.
If you were given $10 million to be used for moviemaking, how would you spend it?
Ten million can be blown in 10 weeks on a shitty movie. I would spend at least half on documentaries that no one wants to finance. I would make one feature for under $5 million.
What are one or two of your New Year’s resolutions?
Wear headphones during all my interviews — in general — listen more and think less; stop eating sugar; stop writing e-mails and start a revolution. Raise the money for my feature doc film on love and marriage around the world. Started it 10 years ago when the world liked us.
If you took President Bush’s job, who would you hire/fire and why?
I would pink-slip many people in Congress on both sides, and give the rest three months to read the stuff only their staff reads; learn it and make the environment and the war their number one and number two priority. And if they miss voting on the floor more than three times a year — automatic fire. We can’t kill each other if we don’t have a place to do it.