On a gloomy Sunday afternoon I ventured to the closing performance of downtown's Surrender, a "simulated war deployment experience," produced by The International Wow Company. Upon arrival we were issued army uniforms and rifles, given a very basic training course, and led off to battle. It was one of the most intense and ultra-realistic experiences I've ever had in a theater.
Surrender was conceived by Brooklyn-based director Josh Fox with the assistance of Jason Christopher Hartley, the Iraq War Veteran and the author of Just Another Soldier. The duo has teamed up again on the new film Memorial Day, which opens in New York City at The IFC Center on Wednesday.
Memorial Day begins with a group of young Americans partying at a beach town over their holiday break and follows their army service at an Iraqi Prison. The documentary feel makes the film all the more shocking, it's a real experience.
Fox and Hartley put their cast through an extensive boot camp, that lasted for more than three weeks. I was exhausted after the hour boot camp during Surrender and can only imagine what the full experience is like. The Iraqi prison used in the film was constructed near Wow's company headquarters at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and much of the film was shot locally in Brooklyn.
Fox told me that one night they were shooting a scene on a Brooklyn rooftop, when they got into some trouble. The scene involved one character firing off a few rounds, loud blanks off the roof. The crew had warned the police that they'd be shooting so they wouldn't alarm them - but their warning didn't seem to work. In the middle of filming the scene the NYPD stormed the rooftop with their guns drawn. It was an extraordinarily anxious few minutes as they tried to explain to the officers that they were just filming a movie and no real guns were present.
The film has received critical acclaim, but has been subject to a fair amount of controversy. At one screening at a Las Vegas film festival, several audience members rushed the box office, one even proclaiming - "If you show this movie again, I'll burn down the casino!"
While I don't think it'll receive quite that strong a reaction in NYC, it's a film certain to make people on all sides of the issue examine their position.
Memorial Day opens Wednesday at New York City's IFC Center. Visit the official site.
Originally Posted on The Huffington Post.