In our process of growth as individuals many of us come to the realization that in order for us to move forward we have to heal our past. It has become a common practice for people around the world to travel to far-off destinations to attend retreats focused on healing and spiritual evolution, and that is exactly what happens in the recently released German film “Gone.”
Written and directed by Judith Schöll, “Gone” aka “Verschollen,” brings to the screen an all female cast with a powerful and poignant story to tell. Chosen as an Official Selection of the Pula Film Festival and the Ljubljana International Film Festival “Gone” stars Sarah Wessendorf, Emily Yetter and Love Bailey.
“Gone” follows three women who travel to Croatia for a retreat where they soon come to realize that the journey towards healing and wholeness is far from an easy one. With “Gone” continuing to garner widespread attention across Europe, we got lucky enough to sit down with the film’s star, Sarah Wessendorf, about the story, her character and what it was like filming in beautiful Croatia.
Last year Sarah earned praise for her powerful role in the Israeli film “CPH” from well-known director Eitan Sarid. Chosen as an Official Selection of the Jerusalem Film Festival where it was nominated for the Best Picture Award. Sarah has a natural affinity for portraying strong, layered and often challenging roles that push her as an actress. In “CPH” she took on the role of Pia, the wife of an ex-military man from Israel who struggles to move on with his life and deal with the traumatic memories and experiences from war. Sarah breathed life into Pia with delicate vulnerability and strength that allowed audiences to see how challenging it can be for the loved one of a PTSD victim to watch as they suffer, and the importance of sticking by their side in their journey towards healing.
While both “CPH” and “Gone” share a similar theme centered around healing, the two stories, as well as Sarah’s characters in the films, are polar opposites. Sarah’s capacity for portraying diverse characters across various genres prove her astonishing range as an actress and we are extremely excited to share our interview with this talented performer with you. Enjoy!
Hey Sarah, thanks for joining us! Can you start off by telling us about the film “Gone” aka “Verschollen”?
SW: In “Gone” a group of women from all different countries and paths of life decide to
go on an all women’s retreat in the middle of the Croatian countryside. The retreat is offered to help heal old wounds, trauma, etc. Every woman comes there with different motives and different expectations. Some are more skeptical than others, while others come with the belief that they are already pretty far ahead in their journey of enlightenment and healing.
The film follows them as they face each other daily throughout the retreat where they are forced to come to terms with the fact that healing is messy. They trigger each other. My character falls in love with another woman and it becomes clear that real healing takes place when the veil of perfection is lifted. Through group meetings every night, healing through art and painting, and shouting into the landscape, it slowly becomes possible for each of them to look at themselves with more honesty than ever before. These women spend the week at the retreat learning what it means to heal and how to be honest with themselves.
When the retreat comes to an end, they leave with a feeling that they’ve looked at themselves and each other with a level of honesty they had never felt before. Through this, they each develop acceptance and the realization that healing is not easy. It’s messy and at times it’s ugly, but through the retreat they develop friendships that will help them along their individual paths of healing.
How did you get cast in the film?
SW: Judith Schöll and I knew each other through colleagues she and I had been working with. There was a mutual respect apparent from the first day of meeting each other. It just came very natural that she suggested a role for me in her movie
What made you want to be involved with this project?
SW: I think it is very important to strengthen the support we have for each other as women, and as humans in general. The human experience isn’t always an easy one. I find it extremely important that we
learn to become more compassionate towards each other and towards ourselves. This movie shows that at the end honesty and acceptance of the not so pretty sides of growth needs to be present in order for actual transformation to take place. And we need each other for support.
Can you tell us about your character in the film?
SW: I play Hanna, a Buddhist women from Berlin that is quite convinced that she is far ahead in her healing process, but soon realizes during the retreat that what she thought she knew about herself was a carefully constructed structure– one that has actually prevented her from seeing herself fully and truly with all her mistakes and flaws. The actual process for her in the end is learning to love herself even though she is not as pure and free of ego as she previously thought she was.
Why is Hanna important to the story? And how did you feel about playing her on screen?
SW: My character is important because she symbolizes the large group of spiritual people who like to think that they have figured it all out, but are actually quite entangled in their ego mind. Ironically in the end, it almost seems like all of the other women had a way more honest view of themselves. There is this risk with spirituality to hide behind an image of one’s self. Hanna realizes that she needs to be humble, she is forced to realize that she is just as clueless as the other women.
I felt that it was very important to keep Hanna’s experience in mind. Going into spirituality doesn’t save you from making mistakes and being led by your ego. It can help by making you aware of your shortcomings, but at the end there is also a risk of hiding behind the images and ideals of spirituality. As I myself travel on my own journey of self discovery, I very much appreciate playing a role that goes through the process of being humbled.
Was this your first time playing a character who falls in love with another woman? What was that particular experience like for you as an actress?
SW: It actually was yes! I’ve always been interested in the concept of non defined gender and sexuality. So for me I don’t necessarily define a person as male and female, but rather focus on them being a soul. This made it very natural for me to see the soul behind the character and to connect with that. It was fun though representing an experience of two women falling in love, and portraying how natural, intimate and loving that can be.
Can you tell us a little bit about the way you created your character– what were the most important elements of Hannah’s personality that you felt you needed to embody to really get into her character?
SW: I could very much relate to Hannah in the sense that I too am very interested in learning and embodying spiritual truths. It was important for me to show her deep yearning for truth, for authenticity and for real connection. This is what drives her. Later on when she has to come to terms with the fact that she might have been hiding behind some spiritual aspects, it’s this deep inner drive of hers for truth that makes it possible for her to stay open, vulnerable and able to let go of some of her fears. In the end, she just needed to feel that she would be loved and appreciated no matter what, something we all can relate to at some point I’m sure.
Is there any personal connection with your character’s life and personality and your own, is there any relation between the two of you?
SW: For sure. I have definitely been on a spiritual journey to dive deeper into who I am, to discover what I’m here to do on this earth, to look at my fears and so on. This gave me a very solid base from which to relate to Hannah’s wishes. I do think that she used spirituality more so to protect herself, which is something that actually made me question some of my beliefs about myself in connection to spirituality. It was an interesting journey to realize that maybe I too had been using some practices to keep me from facing my own fears. I think it is a very healthy thing to keep questioning your own motives as someone diving into spirituality. This was something I really realized through the process of getting to know my character in this film.
Can you tell us about any challenges or memorable experiences from this project?
SW: It was beautiful to be surrounded by an all female cast. The warmth and support was really extraordinary and it seemed like we all had a lot of personal interest in the topic of spirituality and healing. Just like the women we portrayed, we all came from very different paths of life and found ourselves working together in the middle of Croatia. I remember one morning taking one of the crew member’s dogs for a walk early in the morning in nature and I felt so at peace and so grateful to be doing what I’m doing and to be able to work on projects that truly inspire and challenge me, and also help me along in my own process of growth.
What was your favorite part of being involved in this production?
SW: It was beautiful to realize that we as humans all need support and love for and from one another. Also, the other cast mates and I formed a friendship just like our characters do in the film; and through all of our differences we too realized that being human means to support each other on our individual journeys.
What was the chemistry like on set between you and the other actors?
SW: It was lovely! Being surrounded by all women was a pure joy. There was so much warmth, so much understanding, a lot of laughter and if I had to find one word for it I would say “ease.” Although I usually try not to define people by their gender, I have to admit that there was something very soft, vulnerable and loving about being surrounded by all female identified actors, with one being a trans-women.
What was it like working with Judith Schöll?
SW: Judith is a lovely person to work with! She was very committed to the process of creating an honest, deep, true and captivating film. It was a real pleasure working with her. She made us all feel like we belong, like we were in an environment of trust where we could let go and go all in and still feel like we were being held.
You shot the film in Croatia, is that correct? What was it like shooting there?
SW: Croatia is just beautiful. It was very scenic. I think it definitely became one of my favorite spots in the world. It was the perfect place for us to shoot this movie. We all felt very connected to the land, and the people were all so friendly, always smiling and helpful. But because most people there don’t speak english we ended up gesticulating and smiling a lot!
Why do you think this is an important story for audiences to see?
SW: Because of the all women cast and the fact that it offers up a storyline that really shows in depth what it means to be human, to be a woman and to be on this planet trying to figure yourself out. I think that this is a very important story to tell because I think we all have so many more questions, doubts and fears than we usually allow ourselves to show and admit.
The more we talk about the struggles, how to overcome them and possibly even laugh about them, the better! Also, I find it very important to show that we are not alone in this. That if we choose to open ourselves up that there are many people that can relate to us, strengthen us and make the journey easier.