At first, the connection between the 2016 independent film “Range 15” and the documentary “Not A War Story,” may be a bit confusing. Like the quote from the 2008 film “Tropic Thunder,” where Sgt. Lincoln Osiris proclaims, “I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude,” the two projects present the experiences of war with a Hollywood twist.
The film “Range 15,” produced by military veterans, is described as a Hollywood zombie apocalypse rife with jokes, jargon and inside humor that people who served can appreciate and civilians can get behind.
And in a mix bag of Hollywood metaphors, think “Spinal Tap,” when looking at the accompanying documentary, “Not A War Story.”
Directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tim O’Donnell, the feature-length documentary profiles the making of “Range 15” and shows the aspirations of military veterans who want to venture into acting and show the world that there is life after combat.
The movie has a blend of Hollywood actors and military veterans such as William Shatner and “Lone Survivor” writer Marcus Luttrell. In total, the film is comprised of two Medals of Honor, one Navy Cross, two Silver Stars and over 30 Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts.
“You don’t need to see ‘Range 15’ in order to see ‘Not a War Story,’” O’Donnell said. “The documentary attracts the military because again, it’s a successful story of what veterans can do. It allows them to say, ‘I want to make a Hollywood film. I want to fund it and I want to have total creative control of how veterans are portrayed.’”
The documentary, which premieres on June 30 at Beverly Hills, Calif., has an El Paso connection. One of its actors and military veterans, Vincent “Rocco” Vargas, has lived in the Sun City for the last five years. His mother was born in Canutillo.
“I grew up coming every summer here,” Vargas said. “This is our second home. This is the first place I learned how to shoot guns. This is where I celebrated 4th of July.”
Vargas also made it a point to talk about when he helped settle a Canutillo elementary school controversy over the use of patriotic colors for a concrete depiction of the U.S. flag in 2015.
He was vocal in advocating that Congressman Silvestre and Carolina Reyes Elementary School be allowed to paint its mural red, white and blue despite objections from the developer.
“Because I spoke and shared my testimony about the importance of patriotism and the American flag, they listened,” Vargas said. “I helped change their minds,”
The father of six is leaving El Paso to pursue an acting career and work on other business ventures. Both the movie and documentary film have opened doors to other acting gigs, said the 35-year-old. Vargas is currently acting in the “Sons of Anarchy” spinoff, “Mayans MC,” which is scheduled to premier next year.
Vargas said the documentary was an important project because it represented veterans in a new light. He said that veterans are traditionally depicted as being “broken” or victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This is one of those testaments to the reality of what a veteran can do,” he said. “Eight veterans came together… and they decided to make a movie and they were successful at making that movie.”
O’Donnell said the cast and crew are working on a distribution deal to ensure that the documentary is available to the public later this year. He also urged the public to support the project through its website. There, he said, people could sponsor a veteran to attend the premiere as well as network with other veterans and organizations that advocate for veteran services.
“You are going to be entertained,” O’Donnell said about “Not a War Story.” “You are going to be laughing. You are going to get some insight. You are going to get to see behind the curtain if you will, of the Hollywood machine and in the process of that, the experience will become a conduit into the insight of the American veteran.
“It’s extremely important right now that our country starts to put some effort into understanding the people who protect us.”