Revealing personal truths about oneself can be difficult but also therapeutic and sometimes even inspiring to others. This weeks featured director has taken on the challenge of turning an incredibly personal and painful experience into a short film, a goal that most certainly hasn’t been easy to achieve.
Katie Sponseller has always been attracted to the idea of directing. “I loved theatre and film when I was a kid; how the shows and the stories could transport you to another place was pure magic to me,” she said. After tackling a full length play in high school handling the marketing, performing rights, casting and directing the entire thing, it was clear that this was the path she was born to pursue.
Yet her latest story inspiration comes from a place a little less magical. “I think I’m still processing whether I actually want to turn my personal experience into a film (laughs) but probably a little too late now,” Katie began when I asked her why she chose to portray her abuse through film. “On one hand, it’s not a pleasant personal experience to be stirring around in for too long and in making it a film, I am definitely doing just that. It’s still a difficult thing to talk about in general, let alone to be sharing it with collaborators and projecting it in front of people.” Yet in the age of the #MeToo movement a story such as Katie’s functions as a powerful catalyst for starting important conversations. “The goal was always to initiate conversation about sexual abuse and reveal the prevalence of such experiences.” Katie explained, “[I’ve] had a number of people share that simply reading the script has sparked conversations with their families or friends. People were talking about something they had never spoken about before…That was surprising to me and it quickly became fuel to keep going.”
Alone Together focuses on the story of a 15 year old teenage girl dealing with the effects of sexual trauma. Learning how to cope with her experience she decides to join the boy’s wrestling team and take things into her own hands. Being at the centre of the story and also being in charge of the set became the biggest challenge that Katie faced when it came to time to shoot the project. “My role, in general, already asks of me that I be emotionally open and receptive on set. But as someone also working through major depression and anxiety, it caused me to carry the emotions of everyone else on set,” Katie explained, “It was difficult to feel so many things reflected toward me and still be able to turn around and lead the team.”
But despite all of this the highs of production seemed to outweigh the lows, particularly the sheer amount of conversation it began to start amongst her fellow collaborators. Plus the success of pulling off authentic looking wrestling. “I had no idea if it would work, if we’d be able to teach [the actors] something that felt authentic.” Katie said, “When we got on set and filmed, you could see in people’s eyes that it was working and that we achieved what we aimed to do.”
The other plus coming out of production was the mainly female crew attached to the project. The Director of Photography, Assistant Director, Production Designer and Editor were all also women. “The story itself is filled with primarily male characters surrounding our singular female protagonist, so I wanted to create a greater equilibrium on set.” Katie explained, “With that said, I wanted to bring forth as many female creatives as I could because it’s not enough to simply plug in more female protagonists into stories or more female crew members into productions. It’s more than just numbers. We need to elevate the stories of women and minorities so those were the voices that I wanted in my ear.” Being very aware of how the gender imbalance is still prevalent in the industry today, and experiencing a lack of diversity on sets first hand, it was clear for Katie that a natural integration of more women was what this project was calling for.
The film has now wrapped production but once it has finished in the post-production phase its on to as many festivals as they can get in to, with hopefully some special extra screenings courtesy of certain relevant organisations. It is clear that this film is an important one, not only for Katie herself, but for the wider community of those out there who have suffered trauma. Stories such as this film will tell are key to starting conversations and beginning the process of removing the fear and anxiety that comes with talking openly about such things.
You can support the finishing of Alone Together HERE
FOLLOW KATIE SPONSELLER
Instagram: @alonetogethershort / @iamk8ie