In "Camp X-Ray," which premiered on Friday at the Sundance
Film Festival and is a contender in the festival's U.S. drama
competition, Stewart plays young military officer Amy Cole on
the suicide watch team at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The
U.S. prison is located in Cuba and has been condemned
internationally for holding enemy combatants for years without
The role was a new direction for Stewart, 23, who is best known
for being the lead in the teen vampire "Twilight" film
franchise, but has been taking riskier choices, such as 2012's
"On the Road," to break out of the "Twilight" spotlight.
The actress said that while "people are a little bit afraid of
doing movies about current issues," writer-director Peter
Sattler had created a character in Cole that reflected most
young women today.
"It's a story about a girl who is really simple and really
relatable, and just like probably most girls across the entire
country. She's a really normal, simple-minded girl from Florida
who wants to do the right thing and ultimately doesn't feel like
she is," Stewart told Reuters.
While observing detainees every three minutes to make sure no
one has harmed themselves, Cole bonds with detainee 417,
otherwise known as Ali (played by Payman Maadi), who constantly
asks for the final installment of the Harry Potter novels.
The seemingly simple request generates laughs on the surface,
but deeper down, unearths Ali's own desperate search for how
both Harry Potter and his own story will end.
"When you involve people from very different backgrounds and
differences of opinions, there's something there that never goes
away but you're both human, even though you may be in a position
where you're pitted against each other," Stewart said.
The biggest challenge that Stewart said she faced was to make
sure she looked the part, and trained hard to represent a
"Even though I walk in circles and this job becomes very
mundane, I still had to look like I had learned everything. You
sort of have to breathe in and it changes your entire
physicality. I wanted to represent them right," she said.
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Stewart's performance has already been gaining buzz
early in the festival, and the film garnered a positive response
from the audience at Friday's premiere. In an early review from The
Hollywood Reporter on Friday, film critic David Rooney called the
film "riveting," and Stewart's performance "her best screen work to
Sattler, who makes his feature film debut with "Camp
X-Ray," said he wanted to avoid making a political comment on
Guantanamo Bay, and instead focus on something that he felt would
connect with audiences — a friendship.
"I'm always fascinated by movies and art that takes extraordinary
and difficult subjects but focuses on some of the unexpected, more
mundane aspects of it," Sattler said.
"I was really interested in the idea of how to explore the subject
matter in a different way, through characters, not through
The result is an intimate drama that is littered with lighter
moments such as the young U.S. officers bonding off duty, that
quickly inhabit darker undertones, be it Cole's attempt to
understand her place among her peers or Ali's eager and often rash
attempts to understand humanity.
"There's something very uplifting in a sense about that, even though
the movie has darker notes and bittersweet moments, there is this
really human connection that exists in this movie," Sattler said.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by
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