Four and a half years ago, screenwriter Jim Carabatsos approached producer Marcia Nasatir with a proposal to write a movie about what it was like to be 19 years old and fighting in a war.
"He said no one in Hollywood would listen," Nasatir recalled. "I told him I'd listen. My son was in Vietnam."
Nasatir, speaking by phone from her Denver hotel suite, said she was committed to making a serious film about the Vietnam War from the soldier's point of view. The result of that commitment opens in theaters across the country this weekend -- it's a movie called "Hamburger Hill."One of the reasons Nasatir, who was the executive producer on "The Big Chill," decided to go with the "Hamburger Hill" project was due to her son's silence about his Vietnam experience.
"I felt the time had come," she explained. “There was an unspoken conversation in this country that had to do with the war. Soldiers came back, but they didn't talk about it. No one talked about it. No one asked them where they'd been or what they'd been doing.
"And I felt that there needed to be time for people to finally, through movies -- which I consider to be the most liberating, emotional force in the world -- have a possibility of showing what it was like to be a young soldier at war and it would open up an opportunity for people to talk about the war. Maybe that would begin a healing."
Still, Nasatir was quick to add, she is a businesswoman, and therefore saw a place in the market for such a motion picture. She's served as a vice president at both United Artists and Orion, and as vice president for production at 20th Century-Fox, was responsible for the development of films like "Rocky," "Coming Home" and "Carrie."
But four and a half years ago, she said, there was no way to foresee the onslaught of Vietnam films that were made about the same time and released this year. "Hamburger Hill" is the latest in a string of Vietnam films that includes "Platoon" (which won the Best Picture Oscar), "The Hanoi Hilton," "Gardens of Stone" and "Full Metal Jacket."
"You really have to believe in your own film, your own story. I think our story is quite a bit different than both of those films. ... I said, jokingly, one day to Jim, 'We will show fathers, mothers, sons, brothers, sisters -- whatever -- what it's like to walk in another man's boots. And l think we really did that. And I don't think 'Platoon' or 'Full Metal Jacket' -- because I think they're both different stylized films -- give you that feeling."
Some early reviews of the film from around the country have mentioned the level of violence
in the film is extreme, but Nasatir, who recently finished producing "Ironweed" (which was directed by Hector Babenco and stars Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep), defended the graphic violence in the film as being honest and true to the subject.
"That's what war is. I don't think that this in any way glorifies violence. … One minute a man is alive and smiling at you, and the next he is dead and nobody knows who he is," she said, referring to one particular scene in which a man's head is blown off his shoulders. "As (the character says), 'The man ain't got no head.' I always felt that scene represented the senselessness of violence, of killing, of war."
The public response to the film remains to be seen, and if the film fails it won't be for lack of trying. The production, Nasatir said, was absolutely not a glamorous experience.
"It was like going to war in the movies," she said.