Director: Koura Linda
Cast: Brendan Healy, Doan Nguyen
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: Two soldiers from opposing sides of the Vietnam war are locked in combat. Both are reduced to fighting with their bare hands and distracted by their scuffle they fall unaware into a deep ditch. Exhausted and realizing that they can’t climb out of the pit, they settle on a temporary truce. Soon their differences seem miniscule as they find more in common with one another than this bloody war would have them believe.
Another opportunity for a Spotlight entry this month, indie production company, Space Dream Films reached out with a fantastic opportunity to view a virtual screening of their award-winning short film Names on the Wall. Featuring at the North Virginia 2021 Nova Fest, they also gave me a pass for a behind-the-scenes Q&A with the cast including director, stunt co-ordinator, writer, actors and other various key members of the production. I cherish these rare behind-the-scenes events, hearing the experiences from the cast themselves as well as their thoughts, processes and takeaways from their own project.
Shot in a singular location, the cast makes the most of the minimal setting with a tropical backdrop to mirror the jungles of Vietnam. The short is bright and vibrant with a few moments of visual flair for flashbacks. Attention to detail elevates Names on the Wall with both characters dripping in sweat and dirt as a result of both the climate and the fight they found themselves in. The fight choreography is handled particularly well, a facet of the film I discovered was surprisingly thought out and rehearsed thanks to the efforts of stunt co-ordinator Melissa Tracey, who gave a thorough breakdown during the Q&A.
The two leads are the heart and soul of the story, carrying the weight of the film’s central themes and message on their shoulders. Both actors, Brendan Healy and Doan Nguyen, deliver multifaceted, layered performances as we witness these supposed mortal enemies drop their guard and begin to relate and even warm to one another despite trying to kill each other moments earlier. Most impressive is neither character speaks the same language, so communication is delivered through physical actions and visual nods. Director Koura Linda does a stellar job of building a personal relationship between the characters and breaks down both the language barrier as well as the emotional barrier between the two leads.
Names on the Wall is an impressive examination of humanity and our universal bond despite any circumstance when we are willing to listen or learn. The anti-war sentiment is evident throughout and a gut punch of an ending only hammers home the senselessness of violence. Well shot, sharply written and sporting two fantastic performances, Koura Linda and her crew have created a wonderfully rich short film that deserves the accolades it has collected thus far.