"Our Sergeant returns home to a small town in Minnesota after a third tour with the Marines in Afghanistan. Unable to sleep, wracked by paranoia and anxiety, it is clear that in addition to the scars she bears on her torso, Our Sergeant carries unseen wounds. When a boisterous homecoming party provokes her into an explosive outburst, Our Sergeant has nowhere to turn, and so she runs... deep into the North Woods. Discovering a picturesque summer camp on the shores of a lake, Our Sergeant seeks refuge and at first, finds solace. But she cannot outrun her own heart of darkness and the pristine wilderness becomes fraught with peril."
Sometimes, horror can come in the form of human nature. Of war and destruction. Of pain and hurt. When I first heard about "Blood Stripe", I wasn't sure how it would pertain to a horror site such as mine, but when I thought more about it I realized the horror is subjective. To some, war and the consequences from ones own actions can be just as horrifying as a monster hiding under our beds.
After viewing the film, I had the opportunity to sit down with director Remy Auberjonois and actress Kate Nowlin to discuss their film and learn more about why they chose to focus on a female marine corp as well as the devastating affects that PTSD can have on returning soldiers.
Shannon McGrew: Thank you so much Remy and Kate for sitting down with me today to talk about your new film "Blood Stripe." I know it's having it's world premiere today (June 2nd) at the LA Film Fest, so first and foremost, how are you two feeling?
Kate Nowlin: That's a nice question for you to ask and you are the first person to ask us that! =I'm getting excited, I kind of have a nervous stomach but I'm really excited to share this film with a larger audience. I'm also looking forward to seeing the movie again and getting it out to a larger audience.
Remy Auberjonois: Me too, it's thrilling! I'm actually raised in LA and though I haven't lived here in a long time, I have a lot of roots here and a lot of friends and family. We are having a lot of people travel in to see this film. So other than it being a big personal event there is of course the larger LA Film Festival audience who will be viewing it. They are a great audience and the festival has a terrific line up of really interesting films with great filmmakers from incredible diverse backgrounds. I think this is an audience that will "get" the film the same way as the festival programmers seem to have. We are really lucky to be part of this great event and I'm excited to get the film out into the world. We have been working really hard on this and we think it's a story that people should know.
SM: I'm thrilled for you both and as someone who just recently watched "Blood Stripe" to say it was moving would be an understatement. What prompted you both to want to make a film that not only focused on the marine corp and PTSD but on a female marine corp? Was there something that happened that made you both think this was a film you wanted to make?
KN: We were inspired by the location (Northern Minnesota). One of my sisters was married at that camp, which is where I grew up on as a kid. A few years back, Remy and I took one look at it and thought "this is a really magical place" and the lake was really inspiring to the both of us so honestly we knew we really wanted to be there. In my family, and sort of historically, I was aware of women going up to that part of the country (North Woods). My grandmother, for example, was quite a strong woman and a soldier in her own right, politically speaking. She went up there and lived alone on this body of water that in the summer was really glorious and in the winter she would be snowed in at a cabin by herself. There was something really interesting and inspiring about the idea of a woman on a solo journey. Since this was Remy's directorial debut he thought it might be easy to focus on one main character and he knew that I would work hard for him and show up. The idea was to keep the cast of characters pretty lean and manageable for him because there was going to be so many other moving pieces. When we were doing research around that area there was a woman who had just recently been named "Soldier of the Year" by "Army Times" and once we saw that we started running with this imaginative depiction of a soldier. Since we don't see women soldiers often we thought that it would be a great new American character type to throw in the mix. Women now make up almost 20% of our military and I didn't know that. So we decided that it would be good to shine some light on that population.
SM: Has there been a lot of support from the US Military in response to the film? Especially those afflicted with PTSD?
RA: We've been doing outreach and prior to the festival premiere I've actually been in conversation with some veterans groups. I've got a woman coming from a really interesting veterans group to the premiere. We actually had a female veteran on set with us who was working on the film as a crew member and though she wasn't a consultant about trauma she knew about military life and was Kate's go-to person. There's a lot of interest in the military community about the film. I've spoken to someone about maybe showing the film at one of the military colleges. We are now starting the process as we premiere the film of showing it to the public since we had to hold it back a little bit until we had our world premiere. We do think the film will be receptive in the community and I did have somebody say to me, "You've done a really good job at depicting PTS and some of your folks who might be your audience may have a hard time watching it 'cause it's an edgy feeling but I think they will really appreciate it." It's also another way for the families to understand the affliction of PTS and for the greater community at large to shine a light and sort of raise awareness of that experience, especially with how it relates to women. I'm hoping that the film will reach a large cross section of audiences. We are going to try to focus on getting the film in front of the people that I think will really appreciate the story being told about them.
SM: Kate, your performance is spectacular and powerful. How did you prepare yourself to take on such an intense role?
KN: Slowly, piece by piece. Writing her and writing it was probably the best preparation. I had never done that before and that was so gratifying to sort of start with an idea of somebody and bring her to life word by word, scene by scene, moment by moment, that I think it helped prepare me. I also trained for a few months before we shot, I got into a pretty serious physical regime. I did research and saw images of these servicewomen who really inspired me. I was also inspired by the lioness, the actual animal, and the strength that they possessed. I wanted to transform physically and that helped me prepare and that got me into a good physical and mental head space, which was pretty different than my usual one. I was pushing my own physical and mental limits everyday with this film and as we got closer to the shoot I went further than I had gone past my comfort zone. I was so impressed by these women, their discipline and their stamina as well as their ability to absorb and withstand really tough situations and stressful environments. And as we see now the question of "Is a woman capable of serving in combat" was an interesting one that we got into as we were writing. It was important to show she was strong enough and to really honor those who are now proving that they can be just as strong. That was a big part of the preparation, the physical transformation.
SM: Some people may not know that you and Remy are married. What was it like working on this project together?
KN: Well what people might also not know is our daughter is in the film as well! So there's three of us and she had a lot of say and a lot of input and we are so proud of her. I honestly think she was the most professional one on the set (laughs). I don't know where she gets it but she has tremendous instincts and was unbelievable.
Remy and I were in graduate school together and we met while working together and collaborating on projects. I think in many ways that's how we fell in love. Sure, it's had its challenges but we had many different roles especially when we started shooting "Blood Stripe." Remy stepping into the role of director and me the actress; so the lines were very clear and we respected one another and trusted one another. It hasn't been without it's challenges but I think in a way it's what enabled us to each go for it. We gave each other permission to do things we hadn't done before and we were each others biggest supporters. I think we both brought very different skill sets and very different instincts which brought a lot of dimension to the story. It kept us on our toes in the sense that we shared different perspectives and points of view. I think it made the experience better.
RA: We always took our work home with us, especially when we were writing the script at home (laughs). Obviously I am the director of the film and Kate carries the film as well as also being the heart and soul of it, but we are also co-creators. I don't take sole authorship of the film, it's not an auteur film, there were a lot of artists who contributed, but Kate and I were partners on it from concept to the final sound mix. Our married life was sort of concurrent to the creative process which allowed us to always be present.
KN: The film was also bigger than us. We had an incredible team around us who gave us a lot of support. We made this film in a very short time span, we started writing it in October and we were shooting it in August - 9 months later. We were so gratified by the support and interest of the artist we enlisted as we were going along. It was kind of like being back in school with the collaborations. It really does take a village.
SM: In the end, what did you both take away from the film and what would you like the audience to take away as they leave the theatre?
RA: I would like to have people feel moved. I believe in the idea of catharsis and the idea of having a real experience. I also hope it's a really entertaining film and that it's a bit of a ride. You may not always know what's going on or if the perspective is reliable or what is entirely happening but it's intriguing, gripping, and mysterious in a entertaining way. I want the viewer to ultimately be moved and changed by it and made aware of things that make you want to feel more deeply about the experience we are depicting. That's what I'm hoping for.
KN: I hope for a lot of things but I hope people feel the loss of losing the Sergeant in whatever way you experience that. This film is a meditation on a lot of things - trauma, injury, vigilance; it's a meditation on loss as well as what happens when you can't come home. I want people to miss her, know her, and accept her into their hearts and psyche. I think the character is a symbol for female warriors and women of all kind.
SM: Thank you so much Kate and Remy for giving us a more detailed glimpse into "Blood Stripe." I wish you both the best in your premiere tonight and can't wait for the world to see the powerful and beautiful film that you have put together.
For more information on "Blood Stripe" visit the official website www.thebloodstripe.com and the facebook page www.facebook.com/TheBloodStripe