Now on Netflix from screenwriter Chris Roessner, Treehouse Pictures along with director Fernando Coimbra comes a look at the people and place that carry the realities of war with “Sand Castle.”
The film tells the story of Pvt. Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult), a young man who intended to serve in the reserves to pay for college. When the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occur, he hurts himself hopefully to be sent home.
Instead, he is sent back to his regiment to catch up with Sgt. Chutzky (Glen Powell), Cpt. Enzo (Neil Brown, Jr.), Sgt. Burton (Beau Knapp) and squad leader Sgt. Harper (Logan Marshall-Green). They are sent to a local village where insurgents have destroyed their water pump to get it up and running. While that happens, a tanker is filled daily to get water to the villagers.
The soldiers and the Iraqi people have the same problem, insurgents who want the American soldiers gone and the villagers under their control!
Fernando Coimbra is the Brazilian born director who took on the challenge of making the film “Sand Castle.” Beginning with writing and directing short films, his first film, “A World at the Door,” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Recently, Coimbra has directed episodes of the Netflix series “Narcos” and a Cinemax episode of Robert Kirkman’s “Outcast.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Coimbra about his reaction to the script, challenges and what was most important for the audience to know about “Sand Castle.”
Jeri Jacquin: Hello Fernando, it is a pleasure to talk with you today about the film “Sand Castle.” I love the film.
Fernando Coimbra: Thank you, that means a lot.
JJ: This film is really important for everyone to see.
FC: I’m really glad to hear this.
JJ: Tell me your thoughts of the script when you read it?
FC: I was impressed by a few things. The first thing that caught my attention was the story and the characters. I knew that whoever wrote it knew the situation of war pretty well. I could feel that it was very truthful.
I think what caught my attention the most was the journey of the character and the story of this soldier. He wasn’t there because he actually wanted to be, so he’s not the usual military person. He joined because he wanted to pay for college and tries to get out of that situation. I think people can relate to this character.
The journey I saw for him was very strong, and I believed that the story needed to be told of his traumatic experience. It wasn’t about being a hero, but instead about the experiences that they all go through. It is about them finding a reason and an understanding of what they are fighting for.
JJ: I spoke with Chris (Roessner, the writer of “Sand Castle”) last week, and I told him what really intrigued me is that this film tells the story from both perspectives, the soldier and the Iraqi people.
FC: Yes, that definitely was one of my main goals in preparing to shoot this film. I wanted to do my best to show both sides. I wanted to show the Iraqi people as human beings, not just caricatures or clichés of Arabic people. I see films where they are portrayed as bad guys or terrorists and in this film that is not the case.
They are normal people trying to live their lives doing the best that they can in the middle of all this chaos. I wanted to show who they are and how they connected with the soldiers who are completely different from themselves. They are all human beings, so it was important to have those moments where that connection is there — not just Iraqis or Americans — but human beings.
That was a mission in itself.
JJ: When you finished reading the script, what were some of the challenges you thought you were going to face making the film.
FC: When I decided to make the film I knew everything was going to be a challenge. A Brazilian making a war film not having been in a war was going to be different. I was motivated, though, to read about the war and research it for myself.
I talked with military advisers because it is really important to me that it was portrayed authentically. I wanted to be fair to the audience by putting them into the most realistic environment possible. I went to the military to learn how they move, think and talk because they do have a way of speaking with codes. For me, the challenge was also to be very authentic and real, so I went to people I trusted to help me bring all of that to the film.
JJ: It can be difficult to understand when they talk sometimes.
FC: Yes, I had the military advisers with me at all times. During the prep and during scenes they were there, and special forces guys really gave the actors and myself and inside look at their life in this situation. It was so interesting to experience all of this for myself.
JJ: You were keeping it as authentically military as possible.
FC: Yes, we really did work hard on that keeping the military actions accurate and shooting scenes to keep the emotional element there as well. We always tried to find a way to mix the filmmaking aspect with the actions of the military. I don’t want audiences to just watch the film, I would like them to experience it and relate to it.
JJ: I just couldn’t stop watching.
FC: That makes me very happy.
JJ: You worked with an amazing cast, tell us about that experience?
FC: They were really great and I was lucky to have such very talented guys, and also they were really engaged in making this film. Nick Hoult was so willing to play this character and Henry Cavill really wanted to play a military man because of his family connection. All of them were on board from going to boot camp to learning all the lingo and everything. We became a group, isolated on the set, from being at home and our regular life routines. Everybody became close and connected to each other through this experience. We all became like a military group ourselves.
JJ: Fernando, what do you want viewers to take away after watching “Sand Castle”?
FC: That’s a complex question because there are so many things. We always talk about war in a political way, but we don’t dedicate much of ourselves to understanding soldiers or the Iraqi people. I want everyone to see the human side of all this with no judgment on who is bad or who is good. That doesn’t matter and the film involves many other things. To be in a situation like this is a traumatic situation for all of the people involved.
JJ: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.
FC: Absolutely, thank you for your kind words about our film.
“Sand Castle” is a film that experiences so much human in emotion on both sides of the Iraq war. The soldiers who come to understand they are not wanted in Iraq but have to be there, to the villagers that do want help but to do so can decimate families and in between are insurgents who only want to destroy.
Coimbra took on the challenge of bringing this intense and human story of soldiers and the Iraqi people during a dangerous war. Bringing the authenticity of screenwriter Chris Roessner’s story to film, Coimbra has embraced every aspect and every scene is brilliantly done.
I encourage everyone to take a moment to view the film “Sand Castle” on Netflix.