SIFF Film Highlights: ‘Happy New Year’ - October 12, 2011

"If you can only see a few films at this year's Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, make sure to put 'Happy New Year' on your list"

In the days leading to the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival (Oct. 19-23), festival co-founder and guest blogger David Moore offers observation and insight into some of his favorite films.

As 2011 programming director for the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, I'd like to post as often as I'm able over the next couple of weeks about some of this year's selections. I'll start with one of my personal favorites "Happy New Year", a Narrative Feature Film directed by K. Lorrel Manning and starring Michael Cuomo, is the story of a four-tour, Iraq/Afghanistan veteran, Staff Sgt. Cole Lewis(Cuomo). Upon returning to the US after being seriously wounded by an IED, he is confined to a wheelchair and worse yet, a VA hospital ward dedicated to the "treatment" of PTSD casualties from every American conflict since Vietnam. Sgt. Lewis does not consider himself a victim of PTSD and is displeased with his placement in the psych ward.

None the less, Sgt. Lewis Immediately begins to question the reasons for various restrictions placed upon his fellow veterans by the institution, and gains the respect of the patients, who are eager to rally around a qualified leader in order to better their lot and make institutional life a little more bearable.

Cuomo's performance is absolutely masterful and extremely intense. Manning does an excellent job of developing even the most peripheral characters and creates a rich, believable and absolutely realistic portrayal of institutional life, and the pain and camaraderie shared by the patients, providing a rich backdrop for Sgt. Lewis' personal struggles, victories and defeats.

This film is one of the best war/ post-war films I've ever had the pleasure to view. The production value is excellent, the acting is absolutely superb and I place it on par with films like "Born on the Fourth of July" in terms of realism, emotion and intensity.

Manning accomplishes all this without the use of explosions, intense battle scenes or the ever-tiresome device known as the flashback. The film also draws attention to the issue of post traumatic stress disorder, an increasingly relevant and prevalent issue for our troops both overseas and at home, their families, friends and thus, our nation. If you can only see a few films at this year's Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, make sure to put "Happy New Year" on your list. Check out the trailer.