Morgan Spurlock and Virgil Films present How to Fold a Flag, coming to theaters… nowhere? That’s right, How To Fold a Flag, the latest documentary in Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein’s Iraq War series, will be released digitally on Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and other online platforms.
Tucker and Epperlein’s first film, Gunner Palace (2004), follows American soldiers on the front lines in Baghdad, recording their moments of triumph and loss. Their next film, The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (2006), tells the story of an Iraqi journalist sent to Abu Ghraib after being falsely arrested for the planned assassination of Tony Blair. In How to Fold a Flag, the moviemakers reunite with the soldiers from Gunner Palace and document their lives after the War as they return home to their families.
Samantha Husik (MM): It seems more and more independent films are going the digital release route—why do you think that is? Do you think it will become even more popular method of distribution in the future?
MT: Having meaningful theatrical distribution is getting more and more difficult and it’s an expensive venture often offering little or no return. Digital distribution is finally mature—the platforms and audience are there—however, it still requires a major publicity push and the trick is to get print outlets and major critics to review digital releases. That said, it’s only a matter of time and one of the motivations of this release with Morgan and Virgil Films was to see how far we could take this.
MM: What do you see as the benefit of digital distribution to documentaries in particular?
MT: For documentaries—especially those that are timely—digital is going to be sustainable if audiences are willing to routinely pay for content.
MM: We recently spoke with Morgan Spurlock (about his new film POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) and he said that he likes to use his success to aid others in the documentary community whose work he believes in—so it’s safe to say he believes in How to Fold a Flag. How did Spurlock get involved with your film?
MT: Petra and I have known Morgan for a long time. Not only is he the hardest working man in show business, but he’s also a tireless supporter of other filmmakers, which is a really generous and rare spirit. Last year, we looked at doing series in Afghanistan that didn’t pan out and that, in part, led to us all to decide to release How to Fold a Flag digitally for Memorial Day.
MM: In How to Fold a Flag you follow the same soldiers you followed in Gunner Palace. How/why did you decide to make a documentary about these boys returning home? When did you first conceive of the idea?
MT: The guys from Gunner Palace have become like family to us. Jon Powers, who we did six weeks of press with for Gunner Palace back in 2005, decided to run for Congress in 2008 and that got us started. We wanted to capture the America they all came home to. More than a movie about the war, we wanted to make a movie about a country at war.
MM: The war is never over; these soldiers now have to struggle through civilian life. You spent time “in the trenches” with these soldiers. What was it like for you returning home after your own wartime experience?
MT: It hasn’t always been easy to reconcile “war” and “home.” It’s been sometimes maddening. I flew back to Germany once directly from Baghdad and hopped onto a train to Berlin (where we were living at the time). Hours before, I was at an Air Force field hospital where a young soldier was dying on the operating table and now, here I was sipping a latte in the cafe car on the train. It is interesting to reflect that when the war started in 2003, our daughter was seven years old. She’s taking SAT tests now. It’s a huge chapter of our life, but one, after four films, that we are glad to move on from.
MM: Knowing firsthand the type of physical and emotional battles they’ve had to endure, how do you think the war has changed these soldiers since you followed them in 2004? Does knowing your subjects so intimately ever pose a challenge to your objectivity?
MT: War changes everyone. For bad and for good. At it’s best, you see people embracing life and living. At it’s worst, you see an inability to “normalize.” That’s a main theme of the film: What exactly is normal and who defines it? For most of the guys, I think the hardest thing has been to articulate to the general public their experiences. There’s a huge separation between those who have been to war and those who haven’t. Over the years, the war has become invisible—a constant droning reality that rarely garners public comment. The war has become a huge part of our lives and the personal losses have been great, making it almost impossible to be objective. That said, as filmmakers, our perspective has never been objective. We are not journalists and don’t pretend to be. We make films about the people, places and things we love.
MM: What’s up next for you?
MT: We just finished a film about mixed martial arts fighting called Fightville which premiered at SXSW and HotDocs. Next, we are jumping into a nature film. A new chapter.