Director Tina Satter on Telling Reality Winner’s Story in ‘Reality,’ Starring Sydney Sweeney

Acclaimed New York-based theater director Tina Satter has worked on productions on and off Broadway for more than a decade. Now, in her first ever venture into film, Satter makes her directorial debut with “Reality,” starring Sydney Sweeney, based on Satter’s play “Is This a Room.” The film premiered Saturday at the Berlin Film Festival with Variety critic Jessica Kiang calling it a “clever, gripping docudrama.”

For Satter, who co-wrote the screenplay with James Paul Dallas, making this movie was always in the books. The film, based on the real-life FBI interrogation transcript of whistleblower Reality Winner, is one Satter could envision the first time she came across the documents of the conversation between Winner and the Federal Bureau.

“Truly, when I first stumbled upon the transcript for the interrogation just through reading it I was like, oh my god, this is like a movie thriller. I really felt that,” recalled Satter.

Drawing on her decision to make a play on the transcript first, later transitioning onto developing a screenplay in the early parts of the pandemic, Satter explained: “There was something in me where I thought I think this is a play because of the language, but if this could be a film, with all the great details I was learning at the time that Reality held – her ephemera, her airforce fatigue, her background stuff – it would allow us to see her world a little more, and that just felt very filmic to me.”

In “Reality,” the real-life events of Winner, a former U.S. intelligence officer, as she is confronted by FBI officers in her Georgia home on a Saturday afternoon in June 2017 are unfolded. The film follows a tense and suspenseful back and forth as the life of the 25 year old is also revealed. (Winner was given a five-year prison sentence for releasing classified material to the media when she leaked a report of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections).

The transcript of Winner’s interrogation is one that drew Satter in immediately, but she noted that adapting the film from her original play was a journey she took more time with. Satter credited her co-writer James Paul Dallas: “He helped get the screenplay off the ground, since I’d never written one so fully. Paul was great at the beginning stage in terms of filmically translating the content from the transcript.”

Noting her desire to undertake the film as a debut director, Satter shared: “I knew if I got the opportunity to make a film out of this, I would want to direct it. It was this artistic spark of being able to see and feel the film. I really felt something in my body and bones that I wanted to direct this film.”

As for Sweeney, known for her roles in “Euphoria” and “The White Lotus,” playing Winner was also a divergent pursuit from prior work.

“Previously I’ve kind of been able to create and build all my other characters from the page, but for Reality she was already living and breathing with thoughts and memories before the page was even written,” Sweeney said.

Commenting on the film’s pertinence and resonance outside an American audience, Satter said: “The contents of this film happened in real life, in a small room in someone’s house and it holds geopolitical ramifications, while this young woman’s life is changed by the minute. And that pairing is really unique, especially seeing as to how the workings of democracies and governments is a really big question, for whatever reason, of the world. So with that premise, I think it is charged to share this story of the FBI at work in their conversations with Reality, and for this movie to be a part of the political discourse.”

Reality is produced by Seaview and 2 SQ FT, in association with Burn These Words, In The Cut, Fit Via Vi, Cinereach and Tanbark Pictures.

The international sales rights for the film are handled by MK2 Films. UTA Independent Film Group and WME Independent represent the film’s rights in North America.

“Reality” played as part of Berlinale’s Panorama section.

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