For both its Tuesday and Wednesday screenings of Happy New Year—a film which depicts a group of hospitalized veterans and the toll war has taken on them—Sarasota area veterans were invited to join filmmakers in a panel discussion following the screening. Dr. Richard Swier, president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission, was invited to speak on Wednesday’s panel.
However, he didn’t actually participate in the discussion. After being introduced by the festival’s Programmer Holly Herrick, Swier took the mic and made his outrage known in one fell swoop before making a hasty exit from the theater:
“That’s not how VA hospitals work. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard men and women get the finest care available. I’m disappointed in the film. First of all, Marines don’t kill themselves. They kill other people. If they get injured, and I know a lot of Marines who have been injured, and this is not what a Marine does. I will tell you that this kind of a portrayal makes a veteran appear like a victim, and veterans are not victims.”
Meanwhile, members of the audience interjected with comments like: “You’re sadly mistaken.” “Yes they are [victims].” “Who invited you?”
The film’s Director K. Lorrel Manning graciously responded to Swier’s comments saying, “We expect this kind of reaction at times, this is a very emotional film. I applaud him for stating his views.”
Manning told SRQ Mag Backlot this was by far the most negative reaction to the film he’s experienced during a screening. The film premiered at SXSW and then opened Kansas City FilmFest.
Comments from vets in the audience during Wednesday’s panel included the following from a man who choked up as he stood to share his thoughts:
“This is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen in my life. I lost friends in Vietnam. You gentlemen and women did a fantastic job. The ending was tough but it was fair, it was dramatically convincing. I think in a way—Lewis died, but he saved people both in the hospital—and he tried, although he didn’t succeed, over in the combat zone—but he helped all of those people he came in contact with in the hospital. [The film] had shades of Shawshank, it had shades of Red October. It really was a remarkable film. I take my hat off to you and I wish you the best. I hope it gets full distribution.”
Swier, also the Sarasota County editor at Red County, followed up to his thoughts on last night’s film this morning in a mass email with the subject line of “Sarasota Film Festival promotes movie that viciously attacks veterans.” We suspect he will add his comments to the Red County at some point in the near future.