Filmmaker Christopher Torres Sheds Light On Veterans With PTSD In His Outstanding Short Film WarDogs
By Graham McLean
Christopher Torres joins a growing number of filmmakers raising awareness of the PTSD tragedy and the high suicide rate among veterans. The statistics are terrifying. Twenty-two veterans a day die by their own hand, and in the last year more soldiers died from suicide than were killed in action by enemy forces. These soldiers returning home need our help. None of us who have not lived through war can possibly understand the trauma of killing, but we have a responsibility to the men and women who fight to protect our freedom to take care of them when they come home.
In WarDogs the filmmaker allows us to enter into the mind of Malachi as he battles for both his life and his sanity against the personified voice of his inner darkness. This haunting demon viciously holds the truth of what they both know really went down in Iraq. The film is illustrative of the problems faced by many veterans returning home, and is full of powerful emotion that strikes a chord. Chris was moved by the stories of soldiers who are suffering with PTSD and hopes WarDogs will be a catalyst for social change. I had the honor of speaking with Chris about this important project and what it means to him personally.
How did you get your start in filmmaking?
I used to be an actor a long time ago. I was young, and I got caught up in all the wrong things about being actor, so I left. I created a successful construction company, but I always wanted to go back, to reenter the entertainment business. As a general contractor someone called me and asked me to hire some vets. They were working with me for several months. I would talk to them and after being around them for a while they'd open up to me. I started to see a story. I started to see something really important. I felt like I was allowed to see something. I had a little money from my work and thought I'm going to make a film on this.
What is the story you wanted to tell with WarDogs?
What I saw when I was around these vets was that they were incased in an energy beyond their own comprehension. It was bigger than them. I wanted to create a short film that exposed the challenge of coming back from Iraq, of being exposed to that type of violence and then coming home to a so-called normal environment, and how it affects them personally and the people that they love. One of my goals for this film is to be a positive force for social growth because this is an important issue. I want to raise awareness about the high suicide rate. A lot of people don't know. There is a potential for a higher awareness around PTSD on a humanitarian level. Let's address this, heal this. Let's find a way to help.
Have you yourself experienced depression?
As an artist we go through cycles. We get very excited, very passionate, and then we crash. That's something I've learned to accept. Like nighttime and daytime, I notice in nature these cycles are constantly going on and I've learned to accept these cycles for myself. I don't want to relate my life to someone who has come back from Iraq, or say we're equal, that our emotional swings are equal, but I do relate. I see a lot of people, a lot of my friends that have challenges from childhood situations that do stay trapped. The event that happened to them, their consciousness, isn't greater than them. They got exposed to something, but now it controls them, as opposed to them controlling it.
Is there a treatment for PTSD?
I was invited to see some films made by vets for vets. There were a thousand vets there, and after the films were screened they started asking the directors questions. How do you survive PTSD? How do you not blow your brains out? How are you getting through this? And I heard a whole range of different philosophies. It seems like a lot of different things actually help. I wouldn't want to say there is just one way. It does seem like there are layers of recovery. And one thing will help to this layer, and another thing help to that layer. I will say that if they are alone they are pretty much going to die if they don't make connections to other people.
What is your goal for WarDogs?
My goal is to elevate social awareness. To show people that this is going on. I can only do so much. I'd love to do a lot more. I'd love to create a TV show. We are in talks to create a TV show in Europe and I'd love to create an American TV show or Netflix show for this. I want viewers to understand the realities of the struggle with PTSD and the high suicide rate. I also want to create avenues of support. If someone watches the film, if HBO picks it up or whoever, by watching it they'll be aware of organizations they can support, or if a veteran is watching it, and they are isolated or alone, they might find a way back to connecting with people that can help them.
Have you gotten a lot of support for the film?
This film wouldn't have been made without support. I didn't realize this going in. My initial cast and crew was seven people. The word went out. I'm shooting August 20th, and I'm going to shoot in my apartment. Within three weeks I had a cast and crew of thirty-seven. I wound up getting a studio art department, studio sound, all these things started getting gifted to me for free because of the subject and I guess the quality of the writing too. And that just continued into postproduction. I got a studio editor for free. I got Emmy Award winning graphics for free. I even got a celebrity to do the voice over. So there was tons of support.
How do you know when your story is finished as a filmmaker?
I know in my heart I've done the very best I can and I'm willing to move forward. I'm willing to allow people to see it at this level. In my heart I wish I had another $10 million so I could really tell the story that I think is so important to be told. Obviously films are a business. They're meant to be profitable. You need to create something that works on an economical level, but with a subject like this you also want there to be a social impact as well. And I think that I can do that. So I don't feel finished. I know there's a lot more I can do, but I am willing to move forward and present this and I'm very proud of it. I know other people are moved by it as well.
Are there any filmmakers that have inspired you or influenced your work?
I'm so impressed by people that want to create and do create. The average filmmaker today is so sophisticated, the technology, the capabilities, the intelligence level. It's like how sports players keep getting better every ten years, and I feel the same way with filmmakers today. To name a few I'm of course influenced by the older guys, like Kubrick, Kazan, Spielberg, but the people that are doing it today, like Fincher, and so many others, are so good. I get moved when people make films that challenge where I'm at. That ask, "Are you for real where you're at or not?" Whatever film does that to me, even if it only does it for fifteen minutes, I'm down.
What is the best part about being a filmmaker?
I think the greatest thing about it is the ability to communicate. Words are great, but so much goes on in communication when you are making a film that's not about words, it's about the being and the doing of it. When you're standing in there and you've got a writer, and director, and actor, and everyone knows we're doing it, and we know why we're doing it, that to me speaks volumes. Then other people look at your work and they know you've finished it. We finished it to the point that we're showing it and that speaks volumes, that you really dedicated yourself to this. That has such a deep love for me that knowing that we were in the doing and that we finished.
How has your life changed on a personal level since making WarDogs?
I've grown as a man for sure. I left construction to be an artist. I was challenged by that, not earning like I used to earn, putting my money into this. It really made me grow. And there were a lot of dark moments. There were a number of times in this film where I thought I don't see a solution. I'm just going to be another guy that has a film in his computer somewhere. So I grew in my commitment. One of the other great things is the new relationships that get built. More and more I want to create relationships with people that are having a social impact. It is such an important time right now, there are so many life-threatening elements, and I think art is very important.
Note: WarDogs will not be available for public viewing until after its film festival premiere.
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