‘The Art of Survival’ illustrates women’s ability to find their inner strength
Jessica Ruth Bell plays Alice, a doomsday prepper, in “The Art of Survival,” Gregory Armstrong’s short film. As writer and director, Armstrong, a Theater, Film and Television graduate student, said his film combines female empowerment with the phenomenon of preparing for doomsday. For the film, Bell was trained and advised in archery by Angela Lam, UCLA’s former archery club president.(Axel Lopez/Assistant Photo editor)
By Paige Hua
April 1, 2019 10:23 p.m.
This post was updated April 3 at 3:24 p.m.
Archery helps a woman change her fate in Gregory Armstrong’s short film.
The Theater, Film and Television graduate student said his film, “The Art of Survival,” combines Idaho’s cultural phenomenon of doomsday preppers – complete with their honed survival skills – with female empowerment. As the writer and director, Armstrong said he was interested in exploring something both familiar and foreign, as he grew up in Utah and often vacationed in Idaho with his family. Preparation for doomsday was a concept that lent itself to his story of Alice, who is seeking control over her own life. Her desire for agency, Armstrong said, comes into conflict with her husband who was raised in the hypermasculine culture of doomsday prepping, and believes she should not have control.
“Preppers, as they’re called, have become almost semi-mainstream in Idaho, less of a fringe mentality,” Armstrong said. “I was interested in the darker sides of intense masculinity that can be associated with it.”
[RELATED: Documentary uses virtual reality to spotlight women confronting violence in Iraq]
The film follows Alice as she searches for purpose and security. Armstrong said she buys into the narrative presented by a flirtatious, charismatic doomsday prepper named Jason, who teaches her the skills necessary to survive Armageddon and eventually marries her. However, as Alice ends up pregnant, she realizes her husband is a man with a paranoid mantra of survival – Jason with his penchant for violence is a contradictory force against the safety she yearns for, Armstrong said.
“He begins to make it clear to her that she doesn’t have a say,” Armstrong said. “He becomes more and more paranoid and his intense focus on the idea of safety and protection becomes violent.”
In the film, archery serves to emphasize both survival skills and the visual concept of female empowerment, said Kennedy Love-Green, a film and television graduate student and the film’s first assistant director. Archery is not just a superficial layer to the film – it is the medium through which Alice finds her strength.
“To be able to see the growth of a character was inspiring,” Love-Green said. “When Alice let that arrow go, when the crew heard it hit that wood, it left this sense of awe and respect.”
Such a sense of admiration continued for the five days on set, Love-Green said, especially for the scenes where Alice manages to fight her way free of Jason. The filming of those scenes, in particular, are that much more impactful as the audience follows not just Alice’s escape but also how her pregnancy plays into it, Armstrong said.
This message was bolstered by the involvement of Angela Lam, an alumna and UCLA’s former archery club president. As the consulting archer, Lam trained and advised both Jessica Bell, who portrayed Alice, and Joe Coffey, who played Jason. Lam said the message of finding one’s inner power speaks for itself through Alice’s ability to escape an abusive relationship. However, for Lam, the actress’ ability to actually use a bow and arrow correctly was what spoke to the visual storytelling of female strength.
[RELATED: UCLA Extension grad’s film tells story of domestic abuse, immigration]
Eventually, Alice uses her newly acquired survival skills against her abuser. Armstrong said he did not intend for his advanced film project to contain such a heavy message, but women’s inner strength managed to play a role both in front of the camera and behind it. Additionally, having known people who were victims of abusive relationships, Bell said she hopes the film serves as a reminder that people can find strength even in trying times.
“I want people to check themselves and see if they have made the same mistakes Alice did,” Bell said. “I hope people are more conscious about who they are with and why they are with them.”