This year at the San Diego Film Festival we had the opportunity to see a film that has become close to our hearts. The film LEAST AMONG SAINTS is a triple threat film as it is written, directed and stars Martin Papazian and brought out an audience that experienced something very special.
The film tells the story of Anthony (Papazian), a soldier who has come back from the war a different man. His relationships aren’t working well either as he has found himself at the bottom of a beer can on more than one occasion.
Seeing something more in him is George (Charles S. Dutton), who cuts Anthony slack with the warning to get his life together. What happens next was probably not what George had in mind.
Anthony meets Wade (Tristan Lake Leabu), the neighbor kid who lives with his drug destructive mother. When Wade’s mother overdoses it leaves only one place for the young boy to go – that’s with Anthony.
One person totally unhappy about the situation is social worker Jolene (Laura San Giacomo) but having no place else to send Wade she gives in. Anthony learns that Wade wants to go to his father and a crazy journey begins.
At the end of it comes one man’s chance to find something greater than himself and a boys chance to make it in life.
FINAL WORD: Papazian as Anthony gives a startling performance. A man haunted by the experiences of war he becomes his own worst enemy. Clearly suffering from PTSD, Papazian writes and performs Anthony in such a relatable way it is heartbreaking. Looking for answers when he doesn’t even know the questions – it seems kismet that this character would find an escape in Wade.
Leabu as Wade has experienced a war of another kind. Living with a mother who is filled with her own demons, Leabu portrays an innocence that I believe draws Papazian’s character in. Wanting a life that involves a family, Wade will take a postcard memory in lieu of anything else being offered to him. Leabu offers up a performance that is honest which gives depth to his performance at such a young age.
Bringing this all together is Papazian himself. Hearing his thoughts on the film we had the opportunity to speak with him.
Thanks for joining us today Marty.
Absolutely, thank you.
Tell us where the idea for LEAST AMONG SAINTS came from.
LEAST AMONG SAINTS was inspired by the many veterans that I was meeting who were coming home from serving overseas. The stories they were telling and witnessing the cost and sacrifice that combat has on an individual in both physical, psychological and spiritual ways. I coupled that with a kid that I knew when I was younger who’s mother was a prostitute and drug addict. When we were 15 we would take care of this kid and take him with us. So what I witnessed in these combat veterans was that they were soldiers, warriors and yet they came home and they had the capacity for great acts of kindness and compassion. I liked that in terms of character and I thought that was an interesting dichotomy. I thought what would happen if these two lost and broken souls came together? How would they find each other and themselves in this relationship – and healing!
When you were writing this and dissecting your character because there are so many layers of him. How difficult was that?
I think with writing you have to do everything one thing at a time. I started to write about this one particular Marine that I met. I also started to do a fair amount of research and then added layers based on what I was learning about combat veterans and their experience. It is also about the emotional journey these two characters go on. I also pulled a lot from my life to dig deep into my own sense of regret and heartache and how I’ve pulled myself out of those dark places. So I think its what people relate to ultimately is the emotional journey of the character. So many veterans have told me that it was an accurate portrayal of them. In the movie there is very little combat scenes and sparse flashbacks. Ninety-five percent of the movie he is a civilian and he’s putting the pieces of his life back together but what they are relating to is the emotional journey. I think it had a lot to do with research and challenging myself to tell my own personal truths.
In doing your research did you go to places to hear and speak to those that suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)?
I was meeting a lot of combat veterans in the entertainment business that was training us for certain roles so that’s where it began. I have known a lot of combat veterans throughout my life from the Vietnam War and a good friend of mine is an Army Ranger who had gone on multiple deployments. When I started to approach producing the film I brought him in and he was good enough to over see everything. So the script developed under his eye. He took me through weapons training and all kinds of different training to get the sense of what a military person experiences. I also did a lot of reading of first hand accounts of the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan so I could get close to that. As an actor you have to make those things real for yourself.
What was it about Tristan Leabu that you knew he could become the young man Wade in the film?
Tristan came in and was the first actor that read for the part. He just blew us away and really went to those places. He is a real artist in the sense that he was really playing this role in honor of children that had been abandoned. He really took it to heart and that was the thing we really got from him being really invested. He wasn’t the ‘child actor’ because his heart was really in it. He also had the chops and could really handle these big emotional scenes. That was something we were concerned with because production really rested on this ten-year-old kid because we only had him five hours a day. Tristan is in 90% of the movie and so we had to schedule the whole thing around him. He had to be able to do that kind of workload and take on those emotional scenes and have the range too. There were all kinds of things that he had to portray and we just lucked out. He was a real professional and he loves to act and work with his heart being in the right place. We read other kids and they were great but no one else grabbed us the way Wade did.
When you were casting, is that how you felt about each character as well?
With Tristan it was immediate. Charles Dutton is someone I’d always imagined for the role and we lucked out that he liked the script and was available. The character of May I imagined quite differently but when Azura came into read again that was the job of the casting director Mary Vernieu and Lindsay Graham. They were very specific about who they would show me first. Azura as May didn’t look like I imagined her but when she portrayed the role with fragility and vulnerability and believable as the small town nurse it was a real surprise. Audrey Anderson as Jenny I always imagined a woman like that and I wanted to work with her again. We worked together briefly on THE UNIT. Jolene was a difficult role for me to cast. When I thought of Laura San Giacomo it just clicked immediately. She had that toughness, vulnerability and humor. All the different colors we wanted for that role coming out of the gate. When you cast well you’re job is done in some ways.
With Laura when she said some of her lines you didn’t know whether to laugh or be totally afraid of her!
Right! In my mind I imagined that how Anthony was responding to her, she was an officer or something of that nature because she has rank on him. She toes that line so well. She has such wit and yet what’s underneath that is this deep concern for this child and wanting to do her job right. Like a soldier she tries to stay above the tragedy she has experienced. As a social worker she has that same thing going on where she has experienced so much that she uses her humor to survive.
Here’s the ultimate question. How hard was it to sell the idea of this film because of the story you are trying to tell?
Well, we actually financed out distribution. We were able to get into 21 cities throughout the country including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and a lot of smaller cities in the United States. Our production company, which is myself, my father and partner did this on our own. We produced a film about combat veterans, which are not popular in the studio system, but we felt the story was important and wanted to make the film. We’ve done everything and rolled up our sleeves to put everything together to independently distribute our movie. It’s available on NetFlix, iTunes, on VOD and put that all together ourselves. It was an independent production from start to finish.
Did you feel doing it that way allowed you to stay true to the work?
Yes, we believed in something that proves to have an impact to people’s lives. For me personally I would have loved to have had the machinery of a studio behind us because we could have shared LEAST AMONG SAINTS with a wider audience. I think the movie is timeless!
Absolutely, all our military personnel aren’t home yet.
Yes, we welcome them home but it takes years and years of repair here. Those that have lost limbs and have sustained injuries, that’s a lot of therapy, people in groups and facilities to take care of one soldier. They fucking deserve it; they served selflessly and so now is when attention should be paid.
Yes, in the case of your character, Anthony, there are no outward signs that say ‘here, I’m hurt’. His injuries are deep inside with a disconnect being told ‘give it time and get over it’. There are so many dealing with the effects spanning years.
Most of the military men that I’ve met have this great integrity. Even though that population has been put through a lot and broken in so many ways, there is such a great hope for the future for all of us.
Thanks Marty, we do so appreciate your time.
Other cast of LEAST AMONG SAINTS: Azura Skye as May, Audrey Anderson as Jenny, A.J. Cook as Cheryl, Ronnie Blevins as Ronnie, Taylor Kinney as Jessie, Lombardo Boyar as Armando, Doug Purdy as Billy, Kari Nissena as Beth, Nayo Wallace as Sandy and Braden Plagge as Jeremy.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give LEAST AMONG SAINTS four tubs of popcorn out of five. Winning three Audience Choice Awards for Best Picture, the film was also honored by General Electric’s Veterans Network and nominated for a Prism Award for excellence in depiction of mental health.
In the end – from a battlefield or a broken home, the least among us become our saints!
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