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Red Dog’s director brings real-life veterans to the screen

Do you call yourself a movie buff? The war film Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan has a novel approach to choosing its cast, writes Kylie Baxter.

Kriv Stenders’ movie Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan features real veterans alongside professional actors. In September the Director sat down for a live interview with the president of the Veterans Film Festival, Warwick Young to discuss the film on Facebook.

Kriv Stenders live on Facebook. Source: Screenshot from the online interview.

The Facebook Live stream included an intimate audience of 14 guests. According to the New York Times Magazine, the film features an ensemble and crew of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans were from the organisation Ex-tra Specialist, who train and assist vets in gaining employment in the entertainment industry. Shawn Barry is a part of Ex-tra Specialist and worked closely with Kriv Stenders to assist the veterans’ transition to work on set and helping the feature film come to life.

“Vets and actors working side by side, was invaluable and [we] could not [have made] the film without them,” said Stenders.

Veteran Mike Kingston trains star Travis Fimmel. Source: Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan FB Page.

According to Stenders, working alongside vets, the actors were able to use the knowledge and experience to curate a genuine connection with character and context fully. Furthermore, Stenders explained how the vets brought their physicality on set ready for action, whereas the actors needed more time to become a soldier. In the film the veterans worked on stage, filling sandbags, stunts, as extras and some even had speaking roles

According to the Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan Facebook page, veteran Tim Weir played the real-life Laurie Drinkwater who was a soldier during the battle and is still alive today.

“We were very lucky. At the time, I wasn’t aware and didn’t appreciate how amazing the contribution [of] Shawn Barry [and] Special Ex-tras [was] going to be. [Using vets in the film] was more of an experiment,” Stenders said.

Veterans holding artillery props. Source: Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan FB Page.

According to Stenders, the film almost did not happen due to a lack of time and funding. The casting wasn’t complete until the week before production, and they were scouted from actors, veterans, and crew from Queensland. Stenders mentioned how most days they were just trying to get through the next hour, because of how many complicated shots they had to do in such a limited time. “The film is a miracle. It shouldn’t have been made,” he says.

The crew and Stenders used the fear of not finishing the film to energise them and make them work harder. Stenders says what got them through the hardship of the film was knowing how important the story is.

According to HLA Management who represents Stenders described him as “one of Australia’s most renowned, respected, and prolific film directors with numerous critically acclaimed and award-winning shorts, documentaries, music videos, television commercials, television series and feature films to his credit.”

During the interview, host Young introduced Stenders as a diligent and hardworking Australian director. Stenders completed Danger Close in 2019 and has two new feature-length films coming in 2020.

Audience members utilised the commenting and reaction features of Facebook Live during the event.

Rob Cox, a Vietnam veteran, said, “Thank you for telling our story. This movie was so different, from the usual Vietnam US version. We, as Vietnam veterans could relate to this wonderful movie. A moving tribute to your movie, no one in the cinema left their seat until all the credits rolled and applauded at the end.” His comment attracted love and like reactions from the online audience.

“Enjoyed it, this would have been difficult to put together. Especially wanting to please the moviegoers but most importantly the surviving vets and families” said Russell Murray Barnsley, radio presenter and National Serviceman at Australian Army.

In 2019 the film won the Red Poppy Award for Best Feature Film presented by Westpac and Sergeant Joseph Cecil Thompson Award for Best Music.