Sarah Goodman’s first feature, Army of One follows three young recruits as they enlist and struggle through boot camp in post-9/11 America. Two years in the making, this film explores far more than the current state of the military establishment’s marketing prowess.
How did you choose your film’s title?
I wanted to make a film in response to the military’s “Army of One” slogan. It’s a great “branding,” which I recognized from my day job with an advertising agency. The Army’s commercial promises that you can retain your individuality while still being part of a big machine. I wanted to take their own words and play on them.
Did you have any difficulty gaining access to U.S. Army bases?
Not much. The Army probably didn’t really understand the potential of this story, but they were a little surprised that it follows the transformation of just three people. As the film was shot, I got to know a number of the drill sergeants and realized that some of them are quite decent. Their humanity adds another level of tragedy to this mammoth institution whose aims I often criticize.
Out of the hundreds of rookies, what drew you to Thaddeus, Nelson and Sara?
If I’d had the budget, I would have followed a dozen. So I decided to find people I connected with, felt passionate about and who trusted me. Through its uniform dress and bland living quarters the Army tries to change its recruits from the outside in. The intensity I sensed in Thaddeus, Nelson and Sara as they desperately searched for themselves convinced me that their stories could sustain the film. Thaddeus’ patriotism was well-grounded and, at the beginning, unequivocal. Nelson was more concerned with the image that the military provided him, especially through the eyes of his father. Nelson had no interest, per se in being a soldier – he wanted respect. Sara was also looking for acceptance but was the most pragmatic of the three; she had a very fatalistic approach to her chances of surviving deployment to Iraq.
Any first film is an incredible accomplishment. Who helped you along the way?
My co-producers, Arlene Ami and Erik Paulsson were terrific and provided great encouragement and advice. But I don’t think the film could have been made without Caroline Christie’s fantastic skill and patience as we edited down over 200 hours—she brought the film to a whole new level.
Congratulations on winning Canada’s Hot Docs Best Canadian Feature Documentary award. How’s the reaction been in the U.S.?
I’m really wanting the film to be seen in the U.S. As the military is our quintessential American institution there’s something in Army of One that will resonate with anyone. Wide distribution is still in the works, in the meantime I’ll continue to show it at festivals and in independent theatres.
The concept of self-discovery by individuals through the faceless military machine permeates this work, how intentional was that?
Much of America today was brought up on TV idols. There’s been a large disconnect with reality by those who’ve been raised on Pop Culture. So the Army is very seductive to them because it gives an instant solution to everything: Who am I? How do I become an adult? What’s my vocation? Thaddeus had this need, he wanted to change the world, so he gave up his well-paying job and joined an organization that could deliver his fantasy, but by the end of the film he’s lowered his expectations and would be content to influence even two people. He sums the entire experience up perfectly when he asks, ‘Have you ever been a mushroom?’ I identify with him because when I was his age, I too wanted to change things—that’s how I got into filmmaking. Sara is far more pragmatic, enlisting to escape her family. Nelson, so enthusiastic at first, actually lost himself once he got past the superficial environment then, in many ways, descends the furthest.
What’s percolating inside for your next project?
I want to continue to study Thaddeus and the rest of his family. They’re all psychics, which in itself is fascinating. Like much of Army of One, I’ll rely on my instincts to lead my vision and tell their story, and, above all, continue to hear what people are saying then translate those ideas and thoughts into film.