WATM Exclusive: Interview with ‘Mending the Line’ director Joshua Caldwell
We Are The Mighty sat down with Joshua Caldwell (Infamous), Director of Mending the Line. We had a great conversation with Caldwell, covering a multitude of topics pertaining to his most recent film, which highlights service and PTSD in an engaging and loving way. The film starts starring Sinqua Walls (White Men Can’t Jump, The Blackening), Brian Cox (Succession), Perry Mattfeld (In the Dark), Patricia Heaton (The Middle, Everybody Loves Raymond) and Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans).
Mending the Line is about John Colter (Walls), a wounded veteran who returns to the States still carrying the demons of war, hauntingly disturbed by the everyday expectations of friendships and love interests. In Livingston, Montana, he meets Ike (Cox), a surly, headstrong fly-fisherman more than twice his age, and Lucy (Mattfeld), a talented photographer turned librarian who reads aloud to veterans, both struggling in their own way. While getting treatment for his wounds, both physical and psychological, Colter wants only to re-enlist, to have something to die for. But the real challenge is finding something to live for.
Caldwell is very much interested in the subjectivity of movies. He wanted to go beyond being just observational in his direction of the film. He engaged the audience with the character by trying to mimic the audience's engagement with the film to be very similar to how Coulter engages with the world around him. Caldwell believes Walls brought Coulter to life in a way that veterans and audiences are connecting with the journey. He has had veterans come up to him and "thank" him for finally making a movie that speaks to their experiences in the military.
Caldwell's experience and joy from fly fishing led to his involvement with the project. He has experienced the therapeutic effects of fly fishing. He wanted to do the film when he first read the script. Stephen Camelio, the screenwriter, wrote the script as a love letter to his father who was a Vietnam Veteran who passed away due to cancer from Agent Orange exposure. Caldwell resonated with the portrayal of PTSD and how fly fishing was used to comfort veterans' pain in the story. He believes the most compelling point of Mending the Line is that it is a true-to-life thing of veterans finding solace and therapy through fly fishing. The script is based on a lot of different true stories. People came forward to tell their stories of recovery and therapy to Caldwell, which further enriched the film.
From the get-go, Caldwell wanted to involve as many veterans as possible in the making of the film. Namely, that started with a partnership with Warriors & Quiet Waters. The organization's mission statement is: After years of paying service to our country, post-9/11 combat veterans have a new critical mission: finding their purpose in civilian life. Warriors & Quiet Waters guides veterans and their loved ones to thrive and find peace, meaning, and purpose through fly fishing and other inspirational activities in nature. Their facilities are in Montana and take veterans fishing with donated equipment. Caldwell started by learning about many veterans' processes with Warriors & Quiet Waters.
Caldwell and his team partnered with the Marine Corps Entertainment Media Liaison Office which provided the production with technical advice, facilities and equipment, which greatly helped the independent production. The Marine Corps allowed the production to film their opening sequence at the Infantry Immersion Trainer located at Camp Pendleton, CA. The Corps provided all the vehicles and Marines at no charge to the film. It significantly impacted Caldwell and his team to tell the story. Caldwell and his team also engaged the VA to ensure the PTSD process was told accurately as well. The cast and crew had as many veterans as possible, to include in the group therapy scene and as extras. Wes Studi is a Vietnam War Veteran.
The final scene of the film is shot at the Warriors & Quiet Waters home site. Almost all the people you see in the scene are veterans who have been a part of Warriors & Quiet Waters. Many of the veterans who have seen Mending the Line have provided positive feedback to Caldwell and his crew based on the realism and truth portrayed on screen. The Director's creative vision and inspiration were intentionally set up to make the audience feel that they are right alongside Coulter throughout all he goes through in the film. He juxtaposed images of combat and stress with moments of calm waters and fly fishing. When Coulter first sees the river, the world opens up to him. Kudos to Eve Cohen for her great cinematography and being able to contrast images, lighting and scenery to build emotional impact in the film.
The movie does have a simplicity and seriousness of a Clint Eastwood drama. Caldwell focused on connectivity and the story with not just the beauty of the relationships but also the beauty of Montana. He wants the audience to experience the movie as the characters experience and for it to be "lived in." The production encountered some challenges with the rainy Montana weather, which they overcame to get some fantastic shots of sunny and clear Bozeman. The biggest overall impact for Caldwell is seeing the films with veterans and the impact it has on their community. He hones in on the importance of veteran issues and how elements of the film play out in real life for veterans every day. Check out the YouTube interview to learn more about Caldwell, his experiences and the fun they had on set filming Mending the Line.