SVA Alum Minos Papas’ latest film Behind The Mirror recently won the Best Thriller awards at both the Manhattan Film Festival and the Mexico International Film Festival. Here he tells us about his next film.
I first met a veteran of the Iraq war a few years ago in 2011. We were in a busy Brooklyn bar. He was quite obviously uncomfortable in the noisy crowds. He seemed to me to be over sensitive, reacting to all the stimuli around him that everyone else was oblivious to. Until finally after the 4th beer he could start to block it out. I had no idea that what I was witnessing was hyper vigilance, one of the main symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the resulting efforts to self medicate. Until then I, like most civilians, had been largely untouched by their struggles.
When I was studying at SVA (1999-2004), we were encouraged to “make films about what we know.” Good advice. But another driving force behind making films is curiosity. I followed my curiosity about post-9/11 veterans and the specific challenges they face when returning to civilian life. I immersed myself in documentaries and articles about them in order to learn what I did not know. I joined the film workshop, I WAS THERE FILMS, as an instructor and helped veterans tell their stories through digital filmmaking, unpacking and repacking their experiences in story form. I tried to learn about and absorb the profound and varied Iraq/Afghanistan war veteran experience so I could understand my veteran friends. The image of the uneasy young man I had met in that bar haunted me. My ultimate goal was to make a film about this important social issue.
“Tango on the Balcony” is that film. I wrote “Tango” while working with my good friend and co-producer, veteran Marine, Michael Day. It is the story of Johnny, an Iraq war veteran haunted by the devastating results of a split second decision made in combat. An action that leaves him tormented by questions, that follow him into civilian life. In the film, we hope to portray the symptoms of PTSD in an authentic and evocative way. We want the audience to subjectively experience those symptoms through Johnny’s eyes. Film is the perfect medium for this approach, associated with dreams and memory, much like PTSD itself. We want to go further than the films that have been made on this subject. There are many, many great documentaries about veterans, but fewer great narrative films. In fact, many narrative films, such as “The Veteran” and “Brothers” rely on the same old stereotypes of war and reinforce the stigmas that veterans abhor. “American Sniper” gets close to the veteran experience, but stays well within the realm of political correctness. We hope to remain as non-political as possible, and to explore the human condition. It’s time to talk about a generation of veterans now dealing with the traumas of combat and deployment.
So, “make what you know,” indeed! And what you’re curious about. But also what’s socially important! I think that filmmakers have a responsibility that goes beyond entertainment. We need to tell the story of the tribe and portray the world around us as accurately as possible. ‘Truth’ is of course subjective. But we can at least make someone look a little closer at an important topic and hopefully move them to action, or even a change of heart.
“Tango on the Balcony” goes into production in late August. We ran a successful crowd funding campaign in June (PTSD Awareness Month) on the Rocket Hub platform, where we raised $27,500 from 440 funders. We partnered with nine veterans organizations, who are backing our efforts by spreading the word about our film. We are hiring veterans to be a part of the film crew. Our fundraising efforts are continuing under the Fractured Atlas fiscal sponsorship program, as we still needs funds for production and post-production.
Minos Papas’ latest feature film “Behind the Mirror” won the Best Thriller Award at the Manhattan Film Festival, and the Mexico International Film Festival. Find out more about “Tango on the Balcony” here: tangoonthebalcony.com – and on Facebook at: facebook.com/TangoBalcony. To make a tax deductible donation to “Tango on the Balcony” please click here.