In 2004, I purchased a copy of Nina Berman’s PURPLE HEARTS BACK FROM IRAQ, a book of essays and tragically beautiful photographs which tells the story of 20 servicemen and women who were wounded in the Iraq War and their hard road to recovery. After reading this book, my life was forever changed. I immediately began to seek out men and women in the military to interview. I had no real goal other than to get a sense of why and how they did what they did. I had high hopes that someday the “project”, whatever it was to be, would present itself. It was during these months of interviews and encounters that I began to read about the perils of PTSD.
In January 2007, I went to Chicago with several actors to research a play about Chicago cops that I had been hired to direct. One of the officers I had the pleasure of meeting was an Iraq War veteran who’d come home a year and a half earlier. He didn’t seem too happy about his new occupation, but it was something to occupy his time, and the closest thing to the “normalcy” of his time in Iraq. We talked for hours.
The result of this conversation was a one-act play called “Happy New Year “– an intense drama about two Iraq veterans reuniting in a Veterans hospital on New Year’s Eve to contemplate their futures. The play ran Off-Broadway 6 months later, with Michael Cuomo in the role of “Cole Lewis.” It was at the urging of a group of military mothers who had sons deployed overseas that I adapted the play into a short film. The success of that 15-minute short film eventually led to me expanding the story into a feature film.
Because neither I nor Michael had any military experience, I wanted to ensure as much accuracy as possible in telling this story. Over 9 months, Michael and I interviewed dozens of veterans from various wars – Iraq, Afghanistan, Desert Storm, Vietnam and WWII – their families, as well as various military and VA personnel. A pattern of post-war fatigue and struggle began to emerge. As painful as these stories were to hear, we realized how therapeutic the experience was for the men and women we interviewed and for us. These conversations inspired the various characters and events in the film. Nearly 1 in 5 combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from Post-traumatic stress; and at least 18 veterans commit suicide daily.
Happy New Year is not a documentary. It is a narrative feature inspired by the real lives and experiences of those brave men and women who served their country and have since returned in desperate need of our help.
The time is now.
K. Lorrel Manning