The film opens with a small figure standing in a frost-covered, misty field. It is early spring. The child wears camouflage from head to toe. As we creep up behind her, she turns, revealing a large semi-automatic weapon. This is our protagonist. She motions to her comrades, a dozen or so other children in similar attire, who appear in the frame as they proceed into the mist.
Later, the children perform paramilitary training exercises in and around their camp. Armed with their rifles, they jump, squat, roll on the ground, climb over obstacles, crawl under nets. They are preparing to face an imminent threat: the fascists are coming.
After a lunch of cake and strawberry milk, the militia undergo “terrorist training,” a counter-insurgency sweep-and-clear tactic, in the ruin of an old brick mansion flooded with billowing clouds of pink smoke released from smoke bombs. A conflict arises when an older girl, who has established herself as a leader, demonstrates a brutal apprehension method, resulting in tears and brewing discontent amongst the militia. Our protagonist challenges the leadership methods of the older girl, who then poisons the militia against her.
That evening, as the children gather around the campfire, distrust erupts into anger. In an effort to heal, the militia begin a primal, ritualistic purge of emotions. They bang on drums, sing, chant, and dance, wailing like wild animals as they express sadness, fear, and outrage. Ultimately, as the riot descends into giggles, kinship is restored.
The next day, the militia undergo “open warfare training” in an ancient boxwood forest littered with broken stone columns, garden statuary, and other classical fragments. The children, weapons raised, take turns running a course, aiming to hit targets scattered randomly between smoke bombs and other obstacles. Once again, emotions boil over, and an argument erupts between the older girl and the smaller one.
We follow our protagonist as she passes through the course, systematically hitting each target. At a certain point, she stops, realizing that her comrades have disappeared. She looks to the sky as we hear the sound of a jet passing overhead, quickly escalating to a deafening pitch before disappearing. There is a brief moment of silence, then suddenly bombs go off in every direction, filtering deep pink and red smoke through the dense boxwood forest,.
The girl runs through the smoky boxwood, looking for her comrades. She stops, looking all around her. Behind her, one of the black targets begins to move - it’s an armed adult militant. She hears a rustling, turns, then runs. We follow her as she moves through the maze-like boxwood, dodging insurgents left and right.
As she runs into a clearing, she comes face to face with a soldier. Their guns are raised. They have a silent standoff. The girl breathes heavily as she stares down the barrel of her rifle and into her opponent’s face. She blinks hard.
She opens her eyes. Suddenly, she starts to bellow at the top of her lungs. She stomps her feet. We hear drums, chanting. Her militia appear behind her, stomping their feet, pounding on drums, etc. The lone soldier stands frozen as the militia surround him dancing and howling in an animalistic fashion.
militiachildren began in early summer 2017 as a deeply personal meditation on gender, feelings of powerlessness, and approaches to confront violence.
The events surrounding the “Rally the Right” protest and counter-protest in Charlottesville, VA, on August 12 rocked my world. I witnessed my hometown completely overrun by armed, hate-mongering extremists. Of equal shock value was the measured response from many facets of the right, who defended murderous Nazis and white supremacists in the name of free speech. Moreover, blame for the violence was assigned to the far-left “Antifa”, to whom the right assigned equivalency with Nazis and the KKK.
Although I was not raised in the faith, I have been deeply impacted through my education by Quakerism, particularly its advocacy for pacifism and nonviolent direct action. But the horrendous injustice surrounding killings of unarmed people of color at the hands of the police, and the violent rhetoric and increasing polarization of the country during and since the 2016 election has challenged my beliefs in nonviolence.
militiachildren is a deeply personal grappling with my thoughts on violence in the current political climate, and how to channel the most primal, deplorable aspects of human nature into something protective and healing.
Far-right wing militia groups are overwhelmingly composed of low-income white males and frequently uphold white supremacy, misogyny, and homophobia. The militia in the film represents everything these groups oppose. The cast will be made of up of a vibrantly diverse group of children ages six to thirteen.
My directorial approach to making militiachildren will focus on community fostering games and activities, and will incorporate group discussions about the importance of nonviolence with a social worker/educator, physical training sessions with a licensed professional, and an array of movement and voice exercises. Rehearsals will take place every Saturday or Sunday for roughly two months prior to the shoot, which will take place over three consecutive weekends in early March 2018.