Premiering last week at Sundance Film Festival 2017, French filmmaker Alexandre Moors’ The Yellow Birds (2017) – adapted from Iraq war veteran Kevin Powers’ 2012 novel of the same name – depicts the all-encompassing “fog of war” as experienced by young soldier Brandon Bartle (Alden Ehrenreich). We follow the main character through a rush of memories of before, during and after deployment, as he tries to piece together what exactly happened while he was at war.
ScreenPrism spoke to the cast and crew about resisting the urge to glorify war, the story’s nonlinear approach, adapting Powers’ novel, and more.
On the film’s depiction of war:
The film has quite an honest depiction of war. For me, that was its most attractive quality. [The Yellow Birds] doesn’t glorify war and it’s not a story about an American war hero. It deals with a lot of dark matter. Two soldiers go to war in Iraq and develop this bond. One soldier comes back, the other does not, and then the movie kind of revolves around what happened to that missing soldier.
- Actor Tye Sheridan (who plays Daniel Murphy)
“The Yellow Birds”
On the film’s nonlinear flashback structure:
In The Yellow Birds, the main character is dealing with PTSD. He’s had some tragic war experiences and he’s got some secrets that he comes home with. So the film is structured in a way that we don’t know exactly what he’s keeping from us. The nonlinear approach lets you feel his confusion, the uncertainty, and the vagueness of war. I think the idea of a fog of war – that you go there and come back without having everything figured out – that’s something we’re trying to express in a theme, in a mood, and in the character’s performance.
- Screenwriter R.F.I. Porto
On highlighting the darker aspects of war:
I think this film’s important because it shines a light on the darker aspects of war and the toll it can have on the young people [fighting] and their mothers at home. It’s something that hasn’t been really put on the screen before.
- Director Alexandre Moors
Cinematographer Daniel Landin and Director Alexandre Moors on Set of “The Yellow Birds”
On Jennifer Aniston’s strong mother character:
What I took away from this film was Jennifer Aniston’s storyline and character – how strong she was as a mother. Her son had just died, and she tries to find out what happened with him. During her biggest time of grief in her life she’s the strongest she’s ever been. For me, that’s probably the most important thing. I’m really close to my mother, and it was powerful to me to watch her.
- Actor Renée Willett (Claire)
On adapting Kevin Powers’ novel:
[The Yellow Birds is adapted] from a fantastic novel written by Kevin Powers. My process was really about trying to bring out the home front part of the story, which [focused on] the aftermath of war as an emotional, physical and intellectual experience.
My approach was about looking at the novel, finding the ideas, boiling them up to the surface and being faithful. The funny thing about writing is that sometimes being faithful means not doing exactly what’s in the source material. It’s about figuring out what that other author meant, and finding a way to turn that story into the one the director most wants to tell.
- Screenwriter R.F.I. Porto
Actor Tye Sheridan, Alexandre Moors and Actor Jack Huston
On what stood about the script:
[The story] is tragic and beautiful at the same time. I really liked that aspect of it. It has moments that are precious and sweet that we can all relate to, and it has some very sad moments that maybe only those who have been in the military would fully understand. It also has a mystery element. I think when you mix all of those things together makes a film that hasn’t really been done before: a military mystery. I loved my character and felt really honored to get to play her.
- Actor Carrie Wampler (Jenny Smith)
On the reality for our troops:
War is such a horrific animal. [We have] 18-year-olds who aren’t allowed to have a drink, but they’re allowed to have a gun and shoot somebody. [This film] gave me a newfound respect for our troops. I support all of those guys and I just want them to be supported when they get home and have someone to talk to. That’s important.
- Actor Jack Huston (Sergeant Sterling)