Watching the war up close

Watching the war up close
Members of the Army’s storied Airborne division is featured, along with other units and a Marine battalion, in “The Hornet’s Nest.” Courtesy photo

Not quite documentary, not quite feature film ‘The Hornet’s Nest’ gives viewers a close up view of the war in Afghanistan

SAN MARCOS — The gold star lapel button pinned on the collar of Ryan Lasher’s deep red shirt spoke as loudly as he did. And Ryan, a combat instructor at Camp Pendleton, was used to speaking loudly.

The pin symbolized the loss of his brother Jeremy Lasher, a Marine with the Second Battalion, 8th Regiment, who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.

Jeremy had appeared in the film, “The Hornet’s Nest,” which included footage from the battle that cost him his life.

Ryan’s voice carried over a crowd of people at Cal State San Marcos’ new Student Union where the film had jut been screened, telling of how he dropped to his knees and cried when he heard his brother had been killed.

“I think the film is — basically it’s like that reminiscence feeling for everyone that’s actually been over in country or knows the camaraderie,” Ryan later said. “I personally think the film best suits the general population, the general public, because it conveys what we do and what we have done and what we’ve been doing since 2001 whether it be here in Iraq or in Afghanistan.”

Veteran war correspondent Mike Boettcher, left, with his son Carlos during their almost two-year-long embed with Marines and Army in Afghanistan. Courtesy photo

Veteran war correspondent Mike Boettcher, left, with his son Carlos during their almost two-year-long embed with Marines and Army in Afghanistan. Courtesy photo


“The Hornet’s Nest” isn’t quite a documentary and not quite a feature film — in fact, those involved with the production are describing it as an “immersive feature.”

“Typically with a documentary, you choose one topic, you take a side on that topic and you want to explain why that side is important,” said Brent Dones, a co-executive producer on the film. “The reason why this is very different from that is…we’re bi-partisan. We did not want to tell you whether you should agree with the war or not agree with the war; we know America is as far apart as it’s ever been before, and we want to bring the country together.”

The film was created entirely from video shot by veteran war correspondent Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos, both of whom embedded with Marines and Army battalions for more than a year in Afghanistan.

Mike, a journalist that has spent 35 years covering global conflicts was largely absent when it came to his family and his role as a father, leaving the relationship between he and Carlos best described as “estranged.”

Until Carlos had an idea — to embed with his father and try and understand why the job took precedence over their family.

With no prior experience as a war correspondent, Carlos forced his way onto the trip.

The pair began filming in 2009 and finished towards the end of 2011 and early 2012.

The reason the filmmakers were able to do anything like this film, said David Salzberg, co-director, said, was because of Mike, Carlos and the other cameramen that had so many cameras rolling.

“I just think that no other director or producer has done it, because they haven’t had the coverage and they haven’t had the access because Mike gave us access that was unprecedented,” Salzberg said.

As Salzberg and co-director Christian Tureaud started looking at the footage and talking to Mike and Carlos over a satellite phone while they were still overseas, the idea of a father and son reuniting during war time started to become the narrative apparent to the filmmakers.

“And Mike and Carlos said, ‘No,’” Salzberg explained. Mike and Carlos wanted the story to be about the soldiers, he added.

What they brought back with them was more than 500 hours of video footage for the two directors to turn the raw footage into a cohesive narrative.

The filmmakers did meet with military public affairs departments. What came of those meetings was what Dones called the fixing of two “minor, minor, minor issues,” made out of respect for national security. “But besides that, they allowed us to edit the film with complete creativity,” Dones said. “They were not involved at all in the process…they did not make creative decisions for us or say you can or can’t show that.”

With the film receiving favorable receptions from the military and from military families, some are calling it “digital medicine,” said Dones, explaining that it’s sparking dialogues between soldiers and their families.

“That way, these families are finally able to see what their loved ones are going through,” Dones said. “Because a lot of times these veterans are coming home and they aren’t able to talk about it — they don’t even know how to approach the topic of what they did, and so they bottle it up — they keep it buried inside and that only exasperates the PTSD and other invisible wounds that these soldiers are getting,” he said.


MPAA rating: R for language throughout.

Run time: 1 hour and 33 minutes

Playing: May 23 in limited release; opens nationally June 6.


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