Volunteering at the Sydney Film Festival brings an onslaught of energy, people, film buffs and, let's be honest, film snobs. After a jam-packed Saturday night, Sunday brought with it an even greater surge of people as popular hype, noise and whispers of anticipation lined the hallways of the Randwick Ritz. Literally, the queue was enormous.
No matter how busy things get, life tends to throw us subtle moments to smile about. On a crowded Sunday morning at the screening of 'Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan', such a moment occurred when the film's director Kriv Stenders ('Red Dog,' 'Australia Day') shook my hand and pointedly turned to the lady volunteering next to me and said, "I notice you." With two hours until the next half of our shift, it seemed suitable to support the man who showed the volunteers more courtesy than some of the attendees. The experience that followed was quite impactful.
There have been many portrayals of the Vietnam War, but arguably none that focus on the ANZAC soldiers as exclusively as that of 'Danger Close.' Walking in and sitting down at the back of the cinema, choc top and popcorn in hand, it didn't occur to me how significant the film I was about to watch would be - emotionally and personally.
The greatest asset to this film is the amount of research poured into it. Being account-based, it relies on real, human and honest narratives to tell its story and connect with viewers. Martin Walsh's previous documentary 'The Battle of Long Tan' and all prior knowledge allowed for extensive and detailed portrayal of all men involved. Credit is also due to the writers: Stuart Beattie, Karel Segers, Jack Brislee, Paul Sullivan and James Nicholas for their factual portrayal, that whilst creating a dynamic story, paid homage to those deserving. As such, the film goes beyond being just another historical action film - it's a dedication to the men who fought, and to take it one step further, those who knew them. This is the power of 'Danger Close'. In its intricate display, immersion takes place - for the mothers, the fathers, the friends, the grandchildren. The end of the Vietnam War was less than fifty years ago and it is likely as an audience member that this film will offer you an empathetic avenue into understanding the hardships endured.
This film becomes more than entertaining gun sequences - it's effective in its weaponisation of empathetic values.
In discussion with people afterwards, it was enlightening to see how a film could extend the imagination of people watching - with mother's remarking, "all I could think about was - what if that were my son?" More personally, as a grandchild of a Vietnam War vet myself, it was emotionally grueling to witness on screen the weight of his past. It presented a forum of understanding for what he went through and how it created the man he is now. From Stenders' Q&A afterwards, a tentative nod to previous testimonies like this one would suggest the film is serving its purpose. This film becomes more than entertaining gun sequences - it's effective in its weaponisation of empathetic values. Educational in its portrayal of history, yet purposeful in how it conducts itself respectfully with the narrative of real people. Sure, it holds creative licence in moments where it seeks to entertain, but the filmmakers would be the first to admit this.
'Danger Close' is an epic recount of the Battle of Long Tan with no Hollywood exaggerations, no excuses for narrative cuts, and no colourful tie-ins. Stenders has created a film that explores inherent Australian values, history and entertainment - whilst encapsulating friendship, and a modernised respect to the ANZACs.