A new type of movie is making its rounds in the 2019 film festival circuit that focuses on portraying genuine veteran experiences. In fact, the cast and crew of the short film “Tango Down” vowed to create a different kind of military movie, and in the process gave veterans a voice.
The film’s director, Roger S. Christiansen, knows from his extensive experience in multi-camera and single camera sitcom productions that to make any story successful, it has to be relatable.
“You put your heart and soul on the screen because you want people to feel it. The subject has to be real – like ‘Tango Down’ – or no one will believe you,” he said. “This film highlights immensely important topics and I am just happy to have had a small role in creating it.”
“Tango Down” is about two post-9/11 war veterans that have to learn to rekindle their relationship, and make amends with what happened, after they become civilians.
Julia Ling, a leading actress and producer on the film, knows “Tango Down” is not typical Hollywood. And she’s OK with it.
“This isn’t a Hollywood movie, but we didn’t want to make a Hollywood movie,” she said.
The majority of veterans involved in the film, from writers, actors to the crew, are not immersed in the entertainment industry. It was an opportunity, though, for them to work alongside film professionals to create a film of high cinematic value.
“This film has a lot of heart because regular people made it. It is authentic; about friendship and brotherhood. I hope this translates on-screen,” Ling said.
Friendship and brotherhood are major themes of the film. Ernesto L. Rodriguez, a 15-year Army veteran and actor in the film, walked more than 2,000 miles from his home in Tennessee to the California coast with the goal of bringing awareness to veteran suicide. He combined his love of acting with his advocacy for post-traumatic stress disorder when he signed on for “Tango Down.”
Rodriguez recalls everyone working together on set. “So many vets feel out of place in society. This film may not be about PTSD but the process was about coming together to make something bigger,” he said. “This film brought us together. For many it was healing and provided a renewed purpose.”
For Ling, who has also served, the film promotes veterans as warriors. “A lot of films feature vets with raging PTSD,” she said. “We want to celebrate vets for their warrior spirit and brotherhood, and not just focus on darkness.”
Micah Haughey, a producer on the film and business partner of Ling’s at Silver Rose Entertainment, and Christiansen are not veterans, but both agree that working on the film was life-changing.
“Of course we can thank veterans for their service when we see them out at a store or in a restaurant, but we don’t really know them as people. Working on this film has helped me better understand veterans beyond their service,” Haughey said.
Christiansen believes films like “Tango Down” are having an impact. “After working on this film, I suddenly became more aware of how veterans and service members are portrayed on TV, in films and it made me want to do more. I want to tell more stories. So many Americans respect veterans but often it doesn’t go beyond that,” Christiansen said. “There are so many stories and we can give veterans the platform to tell them.”
When Jeanne Tumanjan, an executive producer on the film, learned about “Tango Down’s” mission, she knew she had to support it. “I met the writers and cast on one of the days of filming and all I could think about was how brave they were to tell a story of what it is really like, especially when they are no longer serving,” she said.
Battles don’t end for veterans when they depart from the military. “Awareness is key to really helping our veterans. Yes, we do thank our military for their service, but do people really understand the day-to-day struggles? We can never fully understand but we can certainly be there to support them and continue to raise awareness in this country,” she said.
Haughey’s hope is the film will educate civilians. “Several hundred people had a part in making this film and we all had the same goal: to make a film that makes a difference,” he said.
Ling recalls a member of the crew confiding in her that his being a part of the film changed his life. “He told me he’d been in a bad place. He was drinking and having a hard time coping at home. He said working on the film, surrounded by other vets and people who cared for him, who understood his struggles, helped save him,” she said.
“Tango Down” is just the beginning. Everyone involved in the film hopes for something bigger. As the film gains momentum, especially in the film festival circuit that begins at the 573 Film Festival in Farmington, Mo., Ling and Haughey hope to make feature-length films with veteran cast and crew.
“It’s an opportunity for veterans to pursue a new mission in filmmaking and not the enemy,” Ling said.