Actor/screenwriter Martin Papazian’s feature film directorial debut Least Among Saints, which opened today in New York and Los Angeles with a 22-city roll-out to follow over the next few weeks, is a perfectly cast, compelling drama about a marine who returns home from Iraq, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and on the brink of suicide.
So accurate is Papazian’s script and portrayal of the lead character that the film has generated intense response among vets who have seen it in previews, and its producers are actively seeking to assist veterans groups in helping returning vets adjust to civilian life and stem the epidemic of suicides among them.
“Martin plays a marine who comes home from two tours in Iraq and suffers PTSD consequences,” says James G. Hirsch, who produced Least Among Saints with his partner Robert A. Papazian–Martin’s father–for Papazian Hirsch Entertainment. Hirsch, Martin Papazian, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America senior program manager Jason Hansman attended a preview screening of the film Tuesday night in New York.
“His marriage falls apart, and like so many of these guys, he can’t hold a job–and rehearses his own suicide,” continues Hirsch. “An orphan boy next door turns to him for help and the involvement between the two of them becomes his road to redemption. It’s very touching and powerful, a message of hope for salvation from a simple act–that hope and redemption can come from a simple act of human compassion.”
Martin Papazian previously directed the award-winning short film In The Wind, about a soldier’s return to his Katrina-ravaged New Orleans hometown. His script for Least Among Saints evolved from his role in the 2005 Gulf War film Jarhead, and he was able to attract Charles S. Dutton and Laura San Giacomo, in addition to lesser known but equally wonderful younger actors, to join the cast.
“I was trained by soldiers, and their stories had a profound effect on me,” said Papazian at the New York screening. “I was honored to have Charles and Laura choose to participate at this stage of their careers. And Tristan Lake Leabu, who plays the boy, turns in a truly phenomenal performance for a 10-year-old kid.”
But Least Among Saints has now profoundly affected vets.
“This movie really speaks to me,” said Hansman, who served In Iraq.
“There’s no handbook you get when you get home, and a lot of us who return go through these struggles,” he said.
Noting the relationship between Papazian’s character and the boy, Hansman spoke of the “sense of purpose” that all returning vets are looking for when they come home–and which many have lost and cannot recover.
“I went from Iraq to school–and lost my sense of purpose,” Hansman related. “Raising Wade [the boy] gave Anthony [Papazian’s lead character] a sense of purpose, and the movie gives a better understanding of the issues and struggles that vets are coming back to.”
Noting the record number of suicides among vets, along with Anthony’s suicide attempts in Least Among Us, Hansman told of a close friend who returned from two tours in Iraq, and committed suicide “because he didn’t have that sense of purpose.”
Hirsch, an excecutive producer, producer or writer of over 40 TV movies, series and miniseries (notably including The Rape Of Richard Beck, In The Best Interest Of The Child, Nash Bridges and The Invaders), recounted an early screening in Los Angeles that tied in with the Volunteers of America–a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those in need, including veterans and at-risk youth.
“There was a veteran in the audience who bolted in the middle of the screening,” says Hirsch. “But afterwards he came back and spoke to us. We found out he was a suicidal guy, who’s doing much better today. He decided not to pull the trigger after watching this film.”
Papazian Hirsch Entertainment were so moved by Martin Papazian’s story that they decided to back the film.
“As a producer, I have four rules,” says Hirsch. “One, don’t use your own money. Two, don’t produce your own picture. Three, don’t use kids, dogs, or a first-time director. Four, don’t distribute your movie yourselves. With Least Among Saints, I broke all four rules!”
But Hirsch and Robert Papazian sensed the significance of Martin Papazian’s vision.
“He got to know a lot of vets through Jarhead, and his portrayal of what these guys go through was so accurate,” Hirsch says. “Then we discovered all these support groups whose whole idea now is that these guys are coming home with problems that can at least be addressed–if not cured–with the idea of service to others.”
Papazian Hirsch Entertainment “used all our connections” to get the film funded, says Hirsch.
“Now our job is to try and overcome the fact that we don’t have a big distribution system behind us,” he says. “We’re counting on word-of-mouth, but even if it fails, we won’t quit: We believe in a strong afterlife after the theatrical release, in DVDs and other alternate means of exposure.”
At the New York screening, Martin Papazian was asked what he hoped viewers would “walk away with” upon seeing his film.
“I love films that take me on a journey,” he said. “I like to be moved and feel something. I hope that Least Among Saints does that.”
The sustained round of applause from the screening attendees—most of whom stayed on for a brief Q&A—showed that the film does that indeed.
Incidentally, the film features an original song, “Beaten Up And Broken Down,” which was written and performed by Hirsch’s son Charlie Hirsch. The Least Among Saints title also has a musical connection.
“It sounds like a music lyric,” said Papazian. “It also refers to the people in the movie, a social worker, a nurse, a police officer, a troubled veteran: ‘the least among saints.'”
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