Tag Archives: Actress Sarah Wessendorf

An Interview with Sarah Wessendorf from “Gone”

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Sarah Wessendorf shot by Callum Leo Hughes

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.

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Sarah Wessendorf shot by Callum Leo Hughes

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.

Sarah Wessendorf
Sarah Wessendorf shot by Callum Leo Hughes

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.

Sarah Wessendorf
Sarah Wessendorf shot by Callum Leo Hughes

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.

 

Q & A With Actress Sarah Wessendorf from Eitan Sarid’s New Film “CPH”

Sarah Wessendorf CPH Film
Actress Sarah Wessendorf shot by Callum Leo Hughes

Though different actors have a plethora of diverse personal reasons for choosing to take on a particular role or another, many will agree that there are some stories that just need to be told, ones that they just couldn’t pass up. Amongst other factors, that is one of the driving forces that drew actress Sarah Wessendorf, who’s originally from Germany, to join the Israeli film production of “CPH” directed by Eitan Sarid earlier this year. Wessendorf, who’s been acting since she was a child, recognized that “CPH” carried the potential to be one of those rare stories that could have a real impact on audiences. And she was right.

“CPH,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Jerusalem Film Festival where it was nominated for the prestigious Best Picture Award, depicts the postwar trauma a soldier often face years after they’ve left the battlefield. The film follows a former Israeli soldier who, along with his wife Pia played by Wessendorf, relocate to Copenhagen in hopes of starting a new life and leaving the past behind. If only it were that easy.

Shedding light on a topic that many soldiers across the globe continue to face, “CPH” is brought to life in a way that allows audience members to understand the very real traumas soldiers and their families face after the battle is over. For Wessendorf, this was a hugely important subject to dive into, and her performance as Pia in the film is simply flawless. She is caring and supportive of her husband through his trials and tribulations, yet she never fails to reveal her character’s vulnerabilities and the overwhelming difficulties that come along with being his wife and main support system.

Wessendorf says, “At some point you can not avoid facing your past. That being, said some places and people give us the strength we need to work through those painful experiences.”

An eye-opening film about trauma, healing and love, “CPH” is not to be missed; and lucky enough for us we got the chance to interview the film’s lead actress, Sarah Wessendorf.

Hey Sarah, thanks for joining us! Can you tell us a little bit about what happens in the film “CPH”? 

SW: “CPH” is about an ex Israeli soldier who moves to Copenhagen to escape from his traumatic past in Israel. He moves there with his wife Pia, who I play in the film. When he gets to Copenhagen he gets a surprise visit from his army friend who breaks into the apartment when no one is there. When these old friends finally see each other they are faced with all the trauma and fears that my husband was trying to avoid all this time. In a way, his friend breaking into the apartment symbolizes the way that trauma will find a way to break through over and over again if we are not willing to take the time to sit down with it and to look it in the eye in order to accept and transform it.

Sounds like a very heavy story– what was it that  made you want to be involved with this project?

SW: I have a deep admiration for Eitan Sarid as a director so when I saw that he was casting for the movie I immediately contacted him, and it worked out beautifully. I never shy away from a difficult or complex topic in movies. I think that those are the most important movies to be made. The only importance is to portray these topics in a respectful and sensitive way.

What is it about Eitan Sarid’s work that you admire? What was it like working with Eitan on set?

SW: Eitan Sarid is a wonderful director who gives the actors the space and freedom to bring their own ideas, knowledge and experience to the set. He has a clear idea of what he wants, but he is also open and interested to hear his actor’s own sense of the scene and the character, and then let it all come together. Working with Eitan feels safe, there is a lot of mutual respect. We became very good friends through the process of working together. I deeply respect his vision and his ability to tell stories and I’m very much looking forward to working with him in the future.

Can you tell us about your character in the film?

SW: I play Pia, the wife of the lead. She is from Denmark and so that aspect also signals a new energy that is not connected to the heaviness her husband experienced in Israel. She is next to him to help him build a new life and create a new identity. But when her husband is faced with his past trauma she too has to come to terms with the fact that she didn’t fully know her husband and that in order to love him fully she has to understand his pain and trauma.

What was it like working with Doron Amit who plays your husband in the film? How was the chemistry on set?

SW: Working with Doron was a real treat! He is a very talented actor and together we created this safe space where we both felt free to improvise and trust each other, we motivated each other to go even deeper into our characters’ feelings, fears and ultimately the bond the characters have.

 What does Pia bring to the story? And how did you feel about playing the character?

SW: Pia’s role is a vital one, she adds an element of love and support to the film. She is the one who accepts and loves her husband no matter what. She is determined to have unending and unconditional love for her husband, and this is an active choice she reinforces over and over again, which gives her husband the strength and trust to, for the first time, look into his pain and try to heal. 

I think that this is something that we as humans need in order to be able to move past certain traumas, to know somehow that there is a deep well of love underneath. A love that will catch you when you fall. No matter how we think we have it, I think it is a must to have that in order to open up and become vulnerable. This well if you will, is Pia in the film for her husband. 

When you were creating your character and really becoming Pia, were there any experiences from your personal life that you looked to, or any other places that you turned to for inspiration?

SW: Definitely, I very much rely on a spiritual power to give me the strength and courage to look into childhood experiences which might not have been super and that I wanted to heal.  I feel a very strong unconditional love from a higher wisdom, call it God if you will. I was very much comparing this to the unfailing love and patience that Pia has for her husband. Also I saw someone who deeply admires her husband for his strength and I’ve definitely felt this in previous relationships too, this immense respect for the life path that someone had been on. 

Can you tell us about any challenges or memorable experiences from this project?

SW: Shooting in Israel was definitely very interesting for me. I could tell that the story was also a very personal one for the director and the other cast members since in Israel it is mandatory to go to the army. There of course you are prey to many traumatic experiences, which you will not be able to shield yourself from. Then it becomes the ultimate goal to somehow heal these experiences from the army which proves to not always be that easy. Especially when there are no therapists offered and therapy can be very expensive. It is up to the individuals to learn to cope as best as they can with those dark memories and then somehow learn to live with them.

What are your personal feelings on the fact that is so difficult for the soldiers to get approved for free therapy once they leave the army?

SW: That is of course unfortunate since a country greatly benefits from having mentally healthy citizens. It is a very complex topic though, one that could take hours to discuss. And I don’t think it is fair to a country to judge it without deeply diving into its history, its values and its hopes.

Was there any point during the filming where you felt like the story was too heavy to handle?

SW: No never. I was very much convinced that this was an important story to tell. And as a German I was very happy to be a part of it. I don’t shy away from heavy situations or topics. So this for me was rather a film that I felt honored to be a part of!

What was your favorite part of being involved in this production?

SW: There is something very special to be working as a German in an otherwise all Israeli cast. I feel very fortunate that I got the opportunity to work with such talented actors such as Yona Rozenkier and Doron Amit. Also I completely trusted Eitan Sarid’s vision. I felt very lucky to be part of a meaningful Israeli story in a film that also received such amazing reviews and feedback. But my favorite part was hands down the people. For some reason I always felt very connected to Israel and being surrounded by so much Israeli talent was a complete blast for me.

What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

SW: My biggest wish would be that people realize that it is not always the way it seems when we see a fellow human being. From the outside everything might look wonderful, carefree and easy. But we can never really know where this person has come from, what scars he or she carries, what traumas they’ve experienced. I would love for the audience to understand that we need to foster a society of compassion and empathy, and a deeper love for each other. We all run through life with our own experiences, some are joyful and some painful. No one can run away from that. My wish is that we all learn to treat each other with more care and more love.

How do you feel about the film being chosen as an Official Selection of the Jerusalem International Film Festival and the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival?

SW: It was such thrilling news! I am so proud of all of us, because I know how hard we worked to make the movie what it is! I was not surprised that it has gotten the recognition that it did though. With all that talent around, it was easy to foresee that this movie would be an important one.