Cannes Short Film Corner - Sterile

Sterile - Dora Sexton as Donna

Sterile - Dora Sexton as Donna

This is the story of Donna, a woman who fights to prove the horrific wrong the Eugenics Board of North Carolina did to her in 1968.

Interview with Writer/Director Matthew Klein


Congratulations! Why did you make your film?

Thank you! I made Sterile in an effort to create awareness of a dark chapter of our past in the U.S. I first found out about our history of legal forced sterilization in 2013 and to this day, most of the people I talk to are surprised and unaware that this ever happened. From 1907 to 1974 over 65,000 individuals were legally sterilized against their will in 33 different states.

I wanted to make a film not only about what actually happened during this time period, but also about the effects these programs had on survivors. Listening to their testimonies made me angry. It also reminded me about how far we have to go as a country regarding women’s rights, especially reproductive rights.

Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?

Sterile has a strong social message. The piece is intended to inform our audience about our unethical recent past. If you’re passionate about women having the right to make their decisions about their bodies then this film is for you. When I was first exposed to this subject, I was surprised and angry, I hope this film makes people feel the same.

How do personal and universal themes work in your film?

This film is personal to me not because of any single event or theme in my life, but because it’s about an issue that’s haunted me for the past several years.Forced sterilization is now a universally condemned practice, but it receives little historical attention. The film world has overlooked this topic, especially in the U.S.

Sterile - Bob Satchel as the doctor.

Sterile - Bob Satchel as the doctor.

How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?

I did four rewrites of the script over the last three years. Each time I made an attempt to find the core of the story and shed excess information. In the first draft I used a lot of metaphors for what happened to the main character as a fourteen-year- old girl, but I realized that it was much more powerful and straightforward to actually show her experience instead.

I wanted to create this film as an introduction to forced sterilization and as a call to action. Overall, the film is very similar to the script. There are a few scenes that look different than how they were described in the script, mainly due to budget restrictions, but they still serve the same purpose in the film.

One of the best things to come out of the post-production process was the use of intercutting.In the script the film cuts back and forth between the past and the present on a scene-by- scene basis. In the final cut, our editor cut between the past and present shot-to- shot, which really emphasized how our main character’s sterilization in 1968 still affected her in the present.

What type of feedback have you received so far?

 We’ve received a lot of positive feedback, which has been encouraging. Overall people have said that the film makes them either angry or sad. People are surprised (and maybe sometimes disappointed) when the film is over.

It’s only 7 minutes long and certainly the biggest challenge was condensing such a large idea into only a few minutes.

Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?

I haven’t met anyone yet who has challenged the stance that the film takes on the subject. I’m not surprised. I do appreciate it when people say that they wish they had more time to get to know the protagonist, Donna. Right now I’m working on a feature-length screenplay based on the short, which elaborates on her character and the history of American eugenics.

What has changed my point of view is my continued research. Every time I read an article or a book on the subject, I learn more about how unethically these victims were treated. In many cases, they weren’t even informed that they were sterilized. My feature has been constantly evolving as a result.

What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on

I have one ultimate goal: to raise awareness of this subject. It’s been my passionfor the last three years. This is a part of our history that has gone under the radar for years, ignored in history classes and practically nonexistent in mainstream media.

Sterile - Va Lynda Robinson as Donna

Sterile - Va Lynda Robinson as Donna

Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?

At the moment I need all the support I can get to move the feature version of Sterile forward. I know that I can reach a larger audience with a more substantial film. I would love to have our short distributed at the end of our festival run to bring it to the widest audience possible.

What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?

This is not a happy film; so if you’re looking for something to cheer yourself up, look elsewhere. I want this film to show people the reality of our past and make them aware of the inequality in reproductive rights that still exist in the present.

What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?

 As a country, how did we allow so many individuals to be subjected to such an unethical practice?

What are the key creatives developing or working on now?

Our Producer Zaji Zabalerio is working on an animated short about a girl who confronts suspicions of her father's dogfighting operation in the suburbs of Chicago. He’s currently in the process of figuring out how to best visualize this very odd, sensitive story. The process of producing and directing an animated film is new to him and he’s really excited to be collaborating with some amazing and talented people to make something meaningful.

Our Director of Photography, Haley Kreofsky, is currently working on her thesis film at the UW-Milwaukee.


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Length: 7 min

Director: Matthew Klein

Producer: Zaji Zabalerio

Writer: Matthew Klein

Matthew Klein is a recent graduate of Emerson College and works at Zero VFX in Los Angeles. His work has been screened at festivals internationally.

Zaji Zabalerio is a Filipino-American filmmaker with a background in researching and developing concepts for major cable television networks.

Key cast: Va Lynda Robinson, Dora Sexton, Bob Statchel

Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Producers, film festival directors, and distributors.

Release date: Late 2016/ Early 2017

Where can I watch it? June 26th at the Roxbury International Film Festival in Boston.