News Column

Festival a homecoming for filmmaker

July 29, 2013


July 29--Actress Jeryl Prescott Sales, a former Winston-Salem resident, is bringing her feature-film directorial debut to the National Black Theatre Festival.

"Stand Down Soldier," which Sales wrote, produced and stars in, is a drama about a veteran who returns from three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. The cast also includes Shanti Lowry, Kevin Jackson and Eddie Rouse, another actor with Winston-Salem ties.

It will be part of the 2013 NBTF Film Fest, a series of screenings of films, narratives and documentaries that will be shown between Tuesday and Saturday at the Forsyth County Public Library and at the Benton Convention Center.

"Stand Down Soldier" will be shown one time at 11:45 a.m. Friday at the Benton Convention Center. The screening is free.

After the festival, the movie will also be shown at Aperture Cinema on Aug. 4 and 5, at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets to those screenings are $5. Sales will attend all three screenings.

Sales, 48, is returning to a festival she has attended since 1993, both as a volunteer and as a performer.

"When I lived in Winston Salem, I looked forward to and experienced withdrawal on the Sunday and Monday after (the festival) ended," Sales, who now lives near Hollywood, said in an email interview. "It is simply intoxicating, and it takes over the city. It brings us together like no other event, and it reminds us that the human spirit responds powerfully to art, dance, music, theater, film, poetry and drum beats. I love it."

Sales is best known for her role as Jacqui, one of the survivors of the zombie apocalypse in the first season of the hit AMC series "The Walking Dead." She also has appeared in guest roles in many TV shows, including "Surface," "One Tree Hill," "Revolution," "Castle" and "Southland," and in movies including "The Skeleton Key."

She said that she was drawn to write and direct "Stand Down Soldier" from her own associations with veterans.

"I'm the daughter of a veteran; my best girlfriend since second grade served. Many of my uncles and cousins served in our nation's wars. I have been appalled, angered and heartbroken by stories from personal friends and family members and by documentaries that share stories about sexual-assault-related PTSD," she said.

"I want to use my work as an artist to contribute to efforts to tell these stories and advocate for more attention to the needs of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for every American."

When she started making the film, she said, "I bit off so much more than I could chew -- I'm the writer, director, lead actress and producer. I'm in film school, a very expensive filmmaking class! Nevertheless, no one could have told me the things I've learned from simply having the experience."

Another factor in her decision to make the movie was the inspiration from her mentors: Larry Leon Hamlin, the founder of the festival; Nathan Ross Freeman, a local director and screenwriter; Harry Lennix, an actor/producer who has a supporting role in "Stand Down Soldier"; and her husband, Leander Sales, a film editor and, like her, a former teacher at UNC School of the Arts.

She said that they all emphasized the importance of "taking control of our own images, our own stories and our own careers."

"We see this approach more and more in entertainment now," she said. "With so many more distribution options, the lower cost of making films and the encouraging environment of independent filmmaking, more actors are creating their own projects."

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