Doc Talk | Peter keough

Veteran filmmakers, a determined dancer, and more

Veteran Brian Aft as a zombie extra in a scene from Tim O’Donnell’s <b/>“Not a War Story.”
Veteran Brian Aft as a zombie extra in a scene from Tim O’Donnell’s <b/>“Not a War Story.”Tim O’Donnell

Besides being a symptom of a weak imagination, stereotypes can also inflict insult and injury on those they depict. Tired of being seen on the screen as nuts twisted by PTSD, or gun-toting quasi-fascists, a group of veterans decided to combat these images by turning Hollywood’s negative tropes into a Hollywood-style parody. Which, with a little help from some like-minded Hollywood talents, they did themselves, calling their movie “Range 15.”

That’s the subject of Tim O’Donnell’s “Not a War Story,” how these vets and amateur filmmakers, some of them disabled, banded together to make a feature-length zombie comedy reminiscent of “Shawn of the Dead” (2004) full of slapstick gore that upturns clichés and draws on the vets’ own reserves of dark, sardonic, and irreverent humor. And the production, including a challenging 13-day shoot, also drew on their military values of teamwork and team loyalty.


Filmmakers often say that making a movie is like organizing and deploying an army. In this case, that metaphor is pretty much the truth.

Veterans were involved in every aspect of the filmmaking process, including writing, producing, acting, art direction, and raising money. Production funding came from the veterans community when traditional sources were not forthcoming.

In addition to telling the remarkable story of how “Range 15” was made, the documentary gives insights into the veteran community, delving into their wartime experiences and struggle to return to the civilian world.

Backing up the war veterans in the cast are some veterans from Hollywood, including William Shatner, Randy Couture, Danny Trejo, Keith David, Sean Astin, and Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL on whose memoir the film “Lone Survivor” is based.

Will “Range 15” win an Oscar? Let’s just say that “Not a War Story” might have a better shot. But the people who made it have even more impressive honors to their credit, including two Medals of Honor, one Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, and more than 30 Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts.


“Not a War Story” screens at the Rhode Island International Film Festival on Sunday at 2:15 p.m. at the Vets Cinemathèque in Providence.

For more information go to www.film-festival.org.

On to the next stage

As we saw in “Black Swan” (2010), few art forms are as physically punishing as ballet. The title dancer of Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger’s documentary “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan” has three decades of experience to testify to that. She was principal ballerina for the New York City Ballet, dancing works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and contemporary choreography luminaries such as Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky.

In 2013, Whelan, 46, suffered what seemed a career ending injury. Rather than retire, she underwent grueling physical therapy and turned to other forms of dance outside of ballet. The film is a tribute to talent, hard work, resilience, and graceful aging. “If I don’t dance, I’d rather die,” says Whelan at one point. Watching the generous selection of clips in this film of her performances, you can see why.

“Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan” screens on Thursday at 7:55 p.m. in the newportFILM Summer series at the Rosecliff lawn, 548 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I.

For more information go to www.newportfilm.com.

Wishes granted

National Endowment for the Humanities recently announced grants to three local documentarians. They include:


• $30,000 with a matching grant of $10,000 to the Boston Center for Independent Documentary for Sara Bolder’s project “Crip Camp.” It’s for scripting the 90-minute documentary chronicling the 1960s-’70s summer camp experience of teens with disabilities.

• $200,000 to the Melrose Filmmakers Collaborative for the production of Sharon Grimberg’s “The Circus Project.” It’s a four-hour documentary film series chronicling the history of the American institution of the traveling circus from the late 18th century to the middle of the 20th century.

• $60,000 to the Filmmakers Collaborative Inc. for development of the script for Kathryn Dietz’s “Cartooning America: The Fleischer Brothers Story,” a feature-length documentary on this family of artists and producers who transformed the aesthetics and business of animation. The brothers created such iconic characters as Betty Boop and Popeye.

For more information go to www.neh.gov.

More wishes granted

LEF New England also recently announced good news to six New England-based independent documentary filmmakers — Moving Image Fund grants totaling $30,000 in pre-production funding. They go to:

• Beyza Boyacioglu’s “A Prince From Outer Space: Zeki Müren,” about modern Turkey’s greatest pop star, the legendary queer musician of the title.

• Allison Cekala’s “The End of the River” (working title), which follows the Rio Grande River from its source in southern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico, and shows how ongoing environmental damage has impeded its course.

• Diane Hendrix’s “Mi Casita, the Documentary,” about Franallen Acosta, a young Dominican-American community organizer and entrepreneur in Lawrence.

• Elise Hugus and Daniel Cojanu’s “The Weir,” about a Cape Cod family whose fishing business struggles with uncertain environmental and economic conditions.


• Madsen Minax’s “At the River,” a first-person account of the filmmaker’s relationship with his family following his niece’s unexplained death, his brother-in-law’s false incarceration for her murder, and the family’s turn to Mormonism.

• Garrett Zevgetis’s “Disturbing Schools,” about the conflicts and controversies that arise when South Carolina teenage girls are arrested by a popular police officer in their high school classroom.

The next grant deadline is Jan. 26 for projects seeking production or post-production support.

For more information go to www.lef-foundation.org.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.