SOC professor sheds light on military with new film "Fort Bliss"
School of Communication professor Claudia Myers has been practicing what she preaches.
Outside of her job as a professor of Film and Media Arts, Myers wrote and directed “Fort Bliss,” a military drama that received the Audience Award at the 2014 Champs-Elysees Franco-American Film Festival and Best Narrative at the 2014 GI Film Festival.
“Fort Bliss” tells the story of a single mother (Michelle Monaghan, “True Detective”) readjusting to life at home when she returns from Afghanistan. The film also stars Ron Livingston (“Boardwalk Empire”) and Pablo Schreiber (“Orange Is The New Black”).
Myers said she decided to write “Fort Bliss” after spending five years making films for and about the military community. She felt a personal connection to her subjects that inspired her to pursue an independent project of her own.
“I was just very much drawn to these women who were soldiers but also mothers, and how they had to balance the demands of these two very different worlds,” Myers said. “It was very interesting to me and I could relate to it on a certain level, as a kind of example of the ultimate working mother.”
Myers got her B.A. from Yale and her M.F.A. from Columbia University. She has been a finalist at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab and at the Page Awards, as well as the recipient of multiple awards for her short films. “Fort Bliss” is her second feature length film; her first, “Kettle of Fish,” is a romantic comedy starring Gina Gershon and Matthew Modine.
Though it may seem like a drastic change in subject matter, Myers said it was an evolutionary process.
After “Kettle of Fish,” Myers began writing and directing training and documentary films like “Outside the Wire” and “The War Inside” for the military community.
“It felt like I was telling stories that were important and that mattered,” she said.
After being immersed in the military community as a nonfiction filmmaker, Myers decided that the logical progression of her work was a fictional film regarding the military community.
“I would not have written ‘Fort Bliss’ if hadn’t been for the experience of making several documentaries about soldiers’ experiences in the war, and making training films about the psychological impact of war,” she said.
Besides being inspired by the military communities she worked with, Myers also cites Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line,” Robert Benton’s “Kramer vs. Kramer,” Sebastian Junger’s “Restrepo” and the films of the Dardenne brothers as her inspirations for “Fort Bliss.”
The film, which has been acquired by Phase 4 Films for distribution in North America, will be released in theaters on Sept. 19. In the meantime, Myers will be teaching COMM-664 (Directing for Camera) in the fall semester. She also has another script in development unrelated to the military community.
“I have found that being a film professor and working as a writer/director are complementary, or maybe that’s a special tribute to the environment at American,” Myers said. “From a personal standpoint, being a teacher has expanded my horizons as a filmmaker. Teaching film is a way for me to keep reflecting on the craft and I learn new things each semester from my students.”
She believes that the best films create conversations outside of the theater.
“Tell stories that matter,” Myers said as advice for her film students. “Film is very difficult on every level. It’s physically demanding, it’s emotionally demanding. It’s financially incredibly expensive. So I feel that if you’re going to undertake making a movie, you must believe in it. You need to feel like you’re telling a story that needs to be told.”
“Fort Bliss” (NR, 116 min) will be released in national theaters and on VOD on Sept. 19.