Camera Positions Tell Intimate Guantanamo Bay Story in 'Camp X-Ray'

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Peter Sattler's debut feature film, Camp X-Ray, focuses on the complex relationship between a young Guantanamo Bay guard (Kristen Stewart) and a prisoner (Peyman Moaadi).

“That was a side of the Guantanamo Bay story I hadn’t seen told before,” Sattler explains to Moveable Fest about what compelled him to make the film. “Naturally, everyone sympathy towards the detainees, because no matter what you think about [who is in the right] or the good guys or bad guys, they’re in a very unfortunate position, but I really have sympathies for the soldiers down there because they’re very much prisoners of this world as well. When I started doing research, reading about these soldiers and watching documentaries, I could tell that these kids didn’t really want to be down there either. They knew the mission they were given was a flawed one from the beginning and they’re stuck there, inside the cell, just like the detainees are. It was very conscious because the whole point of the movie is to find a commonality between the two people.”

By narrative necessity, many of the film’s shots are conversations taking place through windows and gates. Because of this, Sattler and DP James Laxton were very conscious about how important the camera position would be. “We have two people in a room largely not moving, talking through a 5-inch piece of glass and how do you slowly change how the audience feels about a situation which is physically the same?” Sattler says. “One of the few things you can change, obviously besides performance, is the camera. A choice we faced was when do we take the camera inside of the cell? Because [once] the audience is inside that room with Peyman’s character is when you start to inch toward some sort of sympathy or understanding of who this guy is, whether they’re conscious of it or not, so little things like that were very meticulously planned as best we could.”

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