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New documentary explores issues of war
The veteran experience and issues of war will be explored in a documentary shown at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Vashon Theatre.
The film “In Country” follows a group of men who reenact the Vietnam War deep in the Oregon woods and is the work of acclaimed filmmakers, one of whom was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2012. The film’s band of war reenactors is made up of two Vietnam vets, including one who served with the South Vietnamese Army; veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and men who never served in the military but are drawn to it. Throughout the film, the men confront their own pasts and contend with the pull that engaging in battle still has on them — and why.
Islander Christopher Gaynor, who fought in the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968, consulted on the film, sharing his experiences in the war and the ongoing physical and emotional toll his time there has taken. He believes the finished product, released in April, is a success.
“In 80 minutes of film, they raised more issues and asked more questions than most films do on the subject of war,” he said.
Gaynor and co-director Mike Attie will attend the screening and host a post-film discussion. Attie, currently of Seattle but soon to be moving to Chicago where he will teach documentary filmmaking at Northwestern University, said filmgoers experience “In Country” in different ways.
“Anti-war folks see it as a distinctly anti-war film. Others see it as a great tribute to veterans,” he said. “Both things can exist.”
Attie and co-director Meghan O’Hara began filming the group of veterans in Oregon in 2010 and continued over a two-year period. It took time to earn the men’s trust, Attie said, and the reenactors, each assuming a role, insisted that he and O’Hara dress as Vietnam War correspondents and then treated them accordingly.
Along the way, Attie said, he and his team felt both attracted to and repulsed by what the reenactors were doing. The experience forced the filmmakers to ask how to honor soldiers while at the same time hating war, he said, and they wanted to explore why anyone who had endured the trauma of war would want to keep repeating the experience.
“We wanted to ask why people want to be part of this,” he said.
While the film focuses on the war reenactors, archival footage from the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are woven in, along with footage of the fanfare and families that soldiers return to, including a welcome-home celebration at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Gaynor, who professes to know every frame of the film, said he is also impressed with its technical aspects, including the cinematography and just how much the scenes in Oregon feel like Vietnam.
“It fooled me, and I know what I am looking at,” he said.
The film has been gaining accolades as it travels the film festival circuit, including garnering a grant from the Sundance Institute and a Tweet from author Stephen King, who said to his followers “See it if you can.”
The film’s subject matter is extremely important, Gaynor stressed, as the United States has 3 million combat vets from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and on Vashon, as in many communities, they are invisible.
“It is too easy for us to live our lives without ever touching the world of combat vets that are all around us,” he said.
Attie, who said he is looking forward to the showing on Vashon, noted the film does not tie up neatly at the end.
“We want to spark a dialog and let those conversations happen,” he said.
“In Country” will show at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, at the Vashon Theatre. Admission is free.