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by Indiewire
January 10, 2014 12:11 PM
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Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #1: Peter Sattler on His Guantanamo Bay Drama 'Camp X-Ray' Starring Kristen Stewart

After studying directing at North Carolina School of the Arts, Peter Sattler moved to LA. "I've worked just about every below-the-line film position there is" he told Indiewire. For the past five years, he's been doing studio assignment writing. "Camp X-Ray" is his first feature film. 

What it's about: "A young woman joins the military to be part of something bigger than herself and her small town roots. But she ends up as a new guard at Guantanamo Bay instead, where her mission is far from black and white. Surrounded by hostile jihadists and aggressive squadmates, she strikes up an unusual relationship with one of the detainees."

What it's really about: "It's about a really shitty job. It's about being surrounded by co-workers you don't like. It's about being interested in someone you're not supposed to be. It's about the grunts having to clean up the mess that was created in the wake of 9/11. It's about bureaucracy. It's about a quarterlife crisis. It's about hope, or the lack thereof. It's about loneliness. It's about the mundane minutiae of everyday life, just shaped and warped through the surreal lens of Guantanamo Bay."

Biggest challenges in completing this film: "Probably time. We had a short shoot (19 days, I think), which means that we had to move very quickly. There's not a lot of time to explore the scenes; you pretty much have to get the blocking right immediately. And of course, you can only plan so much. Once you get the actors and props in a space, your blocking always changes. We also have some extremely long scenes which are hard to direct because you can't fine tune each single line. You have to give your actors very broad notes, or at best, one or two specific notes and then set them loose."

Cameras used: "Arri Alexa, and I couldn't be more in love with it. It's built like a film camera, not like a digital camera. It's designed to handle the rigors of production. And the low-light exposure is frankly insane, which I adore since I can use practical and motivated lights."

Sattler's Hopes for Audience Take-Away: "Love it or hate it, I want them to feel like they experienced something. That they came out the other side of Gitmo and were forever changed by it. I want them to feel that the bond between this soldier and detainee is real. That there is a real intimate emotional human connection that transcends all the other bullshit surrounding them." 

Did you crowd-fund? "Nope. We were lucky enough to not need to."

Inspiration for the film: "To narrow it down, Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant' and 'Gerry,' 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' (Nagisa Oshima), 'Hell in the Pacific' (John Boorman), and 'Compliance' (Craig Zobel)."

What's next? "Hole up in an old castle and write another one." 

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2014 festival. For profiles go HERE.


  • Lisa | January 21, 2014 10:03 AMReply

    Where can we buy this movie online? Can you email me?

  • Jon | January 10, 2014 9:59 PMReply

    Sounds like a cool movie. I spent 11 years in the military including combat zones in the Gulf War. And I am sick to death of the pro-military sob story melodrama films about the poor sacrificial lamb big rough and tough military guys that we are all supposed to shed tears for. They signed on the dotted freaking line. They opted to die and hurt for their country. But when the music plays, it's all , oh boo hoo hoo. My kid is going through cancer treatments and has a tougher life than any military government teet sucking moron I ever met.

  • tess | January 10, 2014 9:46 PMReply

    I would love to see this film in my country. I hope it will be a success in sundance!

  • diana | January 10, 2014 2:34 PMReply

    This movie sounds fantastic and I am looking forward to watching it on the big screen. Peter Sattler sounds like a great storyteller with a moving subject matter and terrific script. The cast is amazing and looking forward to the performances from Pay man Maadi and Kristen Stewart.

  • joe | January 10, 2014 2:21 PMReply

    sure he doesn't know anything of military life either unless he got it from some disgruntled shit bag who was forced out

  • Jon | January 10, 2014 9:53 PM

    Someone piss in your Wheaties?

  • Joe | January 10, 2014 2:20 PMReply

    This guy has no clue and trying to get attention using the word GTMO..loser

  • tamahome | January 10, 2014 3:16 PM

    Thank you Joe for your astute criticism of this guy , i guess unknown and young directors with fresh eyes in hollywood shouldn't get a chance . Imagine that ! All these hollywod people making movies about the military ...tsk . shame on them specially when none of them doesn't have a clue about what's going on in the real world .LOL. I'm sure you do , unless you're one of those "disgruntled shit bag ".. But don't worry it will be okay . You just gave me one more reason to really see this movie when it comes out !

  • Dan | January 10, 2014 3:14 PM

    LOL at your ignorant comments. No directors, film makers or any actor in Hollywood have any knowledge about military or many other different topics, but they have passion and interest so they do researches and meet people. And many touching and amazing movies and documentaries were made because of that.

  • Nate | January 10, 2014 1:38 PMReply

    Political Correct Hippie Shit.

  • diana | January 10, 2014 2:25 PM

    It is obvious that you judge and hands down the execution before intelligently getting the facts and hearing the case. Or
    simply, you are an unfeeling and narrow minded specie of man at its worst.

  • david | January 10, 2014 2:11 PM

    Your comment shows that you have no connection to humanity and what it means to be part of something bigger than you or anyone of us individually. Your put down of those who lived and were part of the hippie generation is beyond low and appalling

  • TiredMom321 | January 10, 2014 1:38 PMReply

    Can't wait to see this movie!