Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

When I was in high school there was a guy who was cut from a different mold and I always wondered what happened to him. I thought of him after seeing The Hurt Locker because to be on a bomb squad one has to come from a different mold.

Daws only weighed 135 pounds and he not only played football, he was a nose guard. (Not the place for little guys.) But he was tough. His helmet actually had the paint scratched off the front of it from hitting other helmets so hard. After one game which we lost we could hear him on the practice field in the dark hitting the blocking sled–which would not have the pads on it. Daws was a warrior and I’d be very surprised if he didn’t end up in the military.

One of the things I like best about The Hurt Locker is it isn’t about the war, but about the warrior. The kind of person that is more comfortable disarming a bomb than grocery shopping or updating his Facebook status.

Movies made in and around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, The Kingdom, Brothers , Redacted ,  A Mighty Heart, The Messenger) have one thing in common–they don’t find much of an audience. Unfortunately, The Hurt Locker joins the club.

Unfortunately, because it’s a great film. Time magazine called it “A near-perfect movie” and recently it tied Avatar with nine Academy Award nominations. Perhaps it will find a life on DVD.

While audiences have supported many films about war (including the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, & Viet Nam) Iraq appears to be a different monster. I’m not sure why this is the case, but I can speculate. Time would seem to be the first factor. I seem to recall an interview where screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart said that one of the troubles with getting An Officer and a Gentleman made was the lingering effect of the Viet Nam War.

Keep in mind that An Officer and a Gentleman was not a movie about Viet Nam, just military centered. The movie got made and was a box office hit, but it came out in 1982–eight years after US involvement ended. Granted The Green Berets was released in 1968 (during the war in Viet Nam) but that was because it was a film John Wayne wanted to make. But generally, the war in Viet Nam was avoided by Hollywood at first.

Certainly, The Deer Hunter (1978) dealt with the lingering effects of returning home from Viet Nam, but that is still four years removed from the conflict.  Apocalypse Now is almost its own genre that transcended Viet Nam, but still didn’t come out until 1979.

I think Platoon was the first movie that was a hard look at Viet Nam that found an audience, but that was 1986– a full 12 years after the war.  Then Viet Nam was in vogue in Hollywood, Good Morning Viet Nam (1987), Full Metal Jacket. (1987) , The Hanoi Hilton (1987), Hamburger Hill (1987), Casualties of War (1989) and Born on the Fourth of July(1989).

So I think time is needed for audiences to be comfortable reflecting on Iraq. When I last checked, we were still in Iraq. We’re still in Afghanistan.  And I think we now realize we will always be in a war with terrorism.

The second reason I think audiences aren’t fond of movies about Iraq is the shear politics of the matter. It’s hard for the word propaganda not to come up. People generally don’t like to heavy-handed arguments from either side. (Though I should point out that that Michael Moore’s documnetary Fahrenheit 9/11 made $119 million domestic/$222 million worldwide (on a $6 million budget.)

And thirdly, movies are largely about entertainment. Definitions usually include the words amusement, diversion, and pleasure. That doesn’t mean we don’t make difficult films–just pointing out that it is hard for those films to find an audience no matter how well they are made. We’ll see how Buried does this spring (about a an American contractor in Iraq) –sounds like an interesting twist and was well-received at Sundance.

The Gulf War was short lives and out of that came Three Kings and Jarhead that did find audiences but the expenses were so high that the domestic box office was below their budgets. Courage Under Fire (1996) had a solid cast Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, and a newcomer named Matt Damon and the budget was estimated to be below $50. million and made $60 million domestic and topped $100 million worldwide.

But with all those statistics there are said to be over  100 Iraq/Afghanistan-centered war movies in development.

How has Dear John been able to have a big box office run? I haven’t seen the film, but words that reviewers are fond of using are “syrupy,” “sentimental” and “schmaltzy.” Not the kind of film my high school friend Daws would be interested in seeing, but enough people were for it to double its money in just two weeks.

Related post: Screenwriting from Hell

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“When your heart speaks, take good notes.”
Judith Campbell

You’re going to think I’m making this up…and I won’t blame you.

But I’m going to tell you about how one screenwriter had a part in making the world a better place.

Here’s what happened. A friend in Florida sent me a message on Facebook asking if I was going to hear Greg Mortenson speak in Cedar Falls Thursday, February 12. Who? With a few clicks I realize that he’s the co-author of Three Cups of Tea which was a #1 New York Times bestseller and has sold over one million copies. I know of the book,  but I haven’t read it.

Greg was an avid mountain climber when he was younger  and now helps build schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, so his story sounded interesting and I went to hear him speak last night. I showed up at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the UNI campus a little late and found the place packed. (Apparently this is common wherever he speaks.)  Out of 1,500 seats I only counted seven open seats. And this is my abridged version of Greg’s story.

Once upon a time…before Greg Mortenson was born his mother and father went to the Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls (which is now the University of Northern Iowa where the talk was given last night). They got married, had children and did missionary and educational work in Africa. When Greg was 12 he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. The family would later settle in Minnesota. Craig’s sister Christa was epileptic and for her 23rd birthday in 1992 she wanted to take a trip to Iowa to see the “field of dreams” in Dyersville where her favorite movie was shot.

Though the movie  Field of Dreams still has a strong following today this was just a few years after the 1989 release. (In fact, the Field of Dreams Movie Site still draws over 50,000 tourists a year. An ESPN article called A little piece of heaven still exists quoted one visitor to the field as saying, “There’s something magical about this place.” )

But on the morning they were to leave on the trip Christa’s mother found that she had died in the night. As a way to honor the memory of  his sister Greg decided to climb K2 the second largest mountain in the world.  He trained hard for the journey. He planned to leave Christa’s necklace at the summit. But he failed. He didn’t make it to the top. Exhausted after a 50 plus day journey he became disoriented and “wandered away from his group.” He ended up in the small village of Korphe in Pakestain where the town people helped him recuperate.

Though he hadn’t had a bath in 84 days he was greeted and welcomed. During his stay he learned that the kids had sticks instead of pencils and in general as tradition the women were not educated. He learned that there was not a full time teacher there because the village does not have the dollar a day to pay a teacher.

So Greg decided to take it upon himself to raise money for a school and after sending out over 500 fundraising letters he had a total of $100 in donations—not enough to cover postage. But he was persistant and continued in his quest until the concept of raising pennies for pencils gains momentum in schools and library’s throughout the land.

To make  along story short today Greg has helped establish over 80 schools providing education to over 28,000 children including 18,000 girls who are not normally educated in this region. And while the Taliban continues to destroy schools (over 400 last year) Greg is doing his part to build school and promote peace. To learn more about Greg and his work visit the Three Cups of Tea website.

“Three Cups of Tea is one of the most remarkable adventure stories of our time. Greg Mortenson’s dangerous and difficult quest to build schools in the wildest parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not only a thrilling read, it’s proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world .
Tom Brokaw

“I did not find a field of dreams in a cornfield in Iowa or at the top of K2. I found my field of dreams in Korphe, an impoverished village in Pakistan’s Karakoram Himalaya.”
Greg Mortenson

Perhaps Greg would have done all that he had done without if his sister hadn’t have seen the movie Field of Dreams. But I love how the Phil Alden Robinson screenplay wrote (based on W.P. Kinsella book) and the movie Robinson made are a part of Three Cups of Tea and a movement that has been a part of making the world a better place.

To paraphrase a client I have, “We’re not saving lives, we’re entertaining people.” But every once in a while…..

copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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