Dusk is falling as the 2/5 1st Cav settles in. Feet are raw after the day’s long march and hands lie blistered from digging the night’s foxhole. Rain patters down the leafy canopy as the men fall into an uneasy sleep. Lookouts keep watch in the dark. Deep inside Viet Cong territory, each snapping twig is a looming danger, every rustle in the brush, an enemy in wait. There’s just one catch – the year is 2010 and the 2/5 is in Oregon.
The 2/5 1st Cav is not an actual military platoon. The men are not soldiers in Vietnam. They are the stars of In Country – the new documentary from co-directors Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara, exploring the world of Vietnam War reenactment and the men who live it. And for these men it’s more than a long weekend mock-fighting in the woods, it’s mentally transporting yourself to another time and another place to experience a war that many have tried to forget. One question burned bright in both Attie’s and O’Hara’s minds’: Why? Why do they do it?
With a group including an American Vietnam vet, a South Vietnamese vet, and two veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to enthusiasts and a high school enlistee awaiting graduation, the Oregon-based 2/5 (Full name: 3rd Platoon Delta Co. 2/5 1st Cav Air Mobile) was an obvious choice for the filmmakers. “Everyone was out there for their own reasons,” said O’Hara. “But I was surprised at how much of a supportive group it was.”
Also important to O’Hara was the 2/5’s attention to detail. Attention to detail means period-suitable equipment and clothing. It means preparatory lectures on politics and culture. It means little bottles of genuine Vietnam-era, deet-having “bug juice” and passing inspection from an actual Vietnam veteran. Attie and O’Hara were only allowed to film on the condition that they dress as war correspondents and live the experience with the platoon, which included sleeping on tarps in the forest and eating cold rations in the dark.
Combining the resulting footage with archival interviews from the actual conflict and further shooting over the next two years following members of the 2/5, Attie and O’Hara create an intimate and curious portrait of the men, their disparate motivations and that one thing which drew them all together.
“The film doesn’t have one ultimate meaning,” said O’Hara. “But it does lead the audience to reflect on our military history and how these veterans are treated and other veteran issues in a way they hadn’t before.”
In Country screens twice at the Sarasota Film Festival: April 6 at 6:45pm in Theater 8 and April 7 at 6:15pm in Theater 11.