Documentary Film Maker
Cathy Brookshire didn’t set out to be a documentary filmmaker. But when the actor and director (who has an MFA in Directing and a Masters in Renaissance Studies and Shakespeare in Performance) began to do research for a theater project on soldiers returning home from war, she realized that all of the stories she was hearing were about men. Where were the women veterans’ stories?
That’s when Soldier Girl, Brookshire’s documentary on women who have served, was born. The film interviews some 30 female veterans who served in the U.S. military from World War II to present day.
Q: Tell me about your arts background - did you start out interested in film?
A: I did not start with films. Most of my career has been centered around live theater. I’ve been a member of Actor’s Equity since the 1970s, performed at the Atlanta Alliance Theatre and then went into radio production and directing. I had my own theater company in Virginia for about 10 years -- Organized Chaos. We took Shakespeare out to schools in Virginia and West Virginia.
Q: How did the idea for Soldier Girl come about?
A: I was part of this group of wacky academics at USC called Classics in Contemporary Perspectives. They don’t sound wild and crazy, but they are. It’s a group of people from a bunch of different disciplines on campus. We get together once a month to talk about the classics. We wanted to do a conference in 2010 based on the Odyssey and called it The Nostos Conference. Nostos is Greek for Homecoming, and the idea was that we would use the Odyssey as a leaping off point to talk about the Gulf Wars and warriors in general. I was, at that time, the only theater person involved with the CCP, so I said I’d write and direct a play for the conference. My colleague and friend Hunter Gardner, who’s a classics professor, agreed to do the heavy lifting with the research for me.
We started doing research and very quickly realized that while we were hearing a lot about returning male soldiers we weren’t hearing anything about the women who served. And we really looked for that! We listened to NPR, watched the national TV news, checked websites, newspapers. Nothing. That’s when I decided I had to meet and talk to women who had served and try to figure out why the silence. I’m so pleased to say that “cone of silence” has really changed since 2009 when I started this. I went from thinking about putting together a play to making a film and building Always Coming Home: The American Female Veteran Experience Archive because a student of mine suggested that we’d reach more people that way.
Q: What was the process of creating the film like?
A: I was ridiculously lucky. The first thing I knew I needed was a good cinematographer. And again I had the good fortune to have a student suggest a fellow by the name of Jimmy Henderson. Jimmy is in Media Arts at USC and he’s done his own film on soldiers: Troxler’s Truckers. He’s brilliant and kind, and agreed to help me even when we had no funding at all. He didn’t get paid until we were three-fourths of the way through. And here’s the thing: some of the women we interviewed had been raped (one was gang raped) and because Jimmy can just disappear behind his camera, not one of them has ever had any trouble talking to us about those terrible experiences … even though some of them still have issues with being in a small room with men. Jimmy’s amazing and he’s crazy because he’s already signed on for our next round of filming. My second piece of good luck was working with my film editor Lee Ann Kornegay. Talk about an extraordinary artist! She took 22 hours of interviews and helped Hunter and me turn all those glorious, frightening, exhilarating, heart pounding stories into a 30 minute
documentary that really captures the complexity of these women’s experiences.
Q: What was the most surprising part about making this documentary?
A: The women we interviewed. I had no idea what being a servicewoman entails. These women are tough, disciplined, hard-working, beautiful people. And it’s a damn shame so few people know anything about the work they do.
Q: When will the public next have a chance to see Soldier Girl?
A: We’ve been selected to be part of the lineup for the 2012 Indie Grits Film Festival. We have two screenings in April, both in Columbia at the Nickelodeon on Main Street next to Immaculate Consumption. April 21 at 2 p.m. and April 26 at 5 p.m. Here’s the cool bit: The folks at Nick are going to donate 50 percent of the proceeds of the two showings to Hidden Wounds. They’ll be a Q & A session after both showings.
Q: How does your work continue with these veterans with your archival project?
A: We just got funding from USC’s Center for Digital Humanities that gives us four days of filming. We had two days of filming interviews in Columbia already.
Q: What are some of your favorite places in South Carolina? Any "must sees" for our readers?
A: Charleston. It’s a little piece of heaven on earth. Spoleto USA happens there for three weeks every year, and we always bring in out of state friends to see some of the finest theater/opera/art/dance/music anywhere in the U.S.
After that, the best kept coastal secret in the South: Edisto Beach. It’s home to the Botany Bay Plantation, one of the only wild beaches left that I know of. It’s also the place to get the best fresh shrimp and soft shell crabs on the planet, and the Sea Cow Eatery. And King’s Market where the tomato pies are small, but incredibly tasty. Oh yeah, and the beaches are fabulous too.