Five Questions with Filmmaker Elvis Leon

Elvis Leon is a producer and actor, known for Angels of Anbar (2014), Full Service (2014) and South Platte. His film, Angels of Anbar, is playing at the 2015 GI Film Festival.

Where are you from and what is your film background?

I’m currently residing in beautiful Denver, Colorado, but I grew up in Los Angeles. In 2009, I discovered the Colorado Film School and have been making movies ever since. I consider myself a writer/producer. I enjoy the creative and logistical aspects of film production, such as organizing a team, meeting new people, and discovering awesome locations.

I’ve produced award-winning short films such as ANGELS OF ANBAR (2014), COMMERCE CITY (2014), and SOUTH PLATTE (2013). I also have three projects in post-production. I now teach at the Center for Digital Storytelling, an organization that teaches students how to write scripts and use video editing software to tell their personal stories. In addition, I host movie nights at VFW Post 1 to help bring the veteran community together and give space for Veteran filmmakers to showcase their work.

Making movies has given me an outlet and keeping busy is the way I have coped with civilian life after the military. I feel lucky to have found a passion that keeps me moving forward.

Who are your biggest influences in film and why?

I grew up watching Tarantino films and every other violent movie that you can think of from the 80’s and 90’s. There weren’t any MPAA ratings in my home. Now I really enjoy fictional, documentary-style films, and much of my own work falls into this category.

Some of my favorite films are Serpico, Hud, A Prophet, City of God, Bicycle Thieves, The Conversation, and the less serious, but amazing, Nacho Libre.

I’m also hooked on TV shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, My Name Is Earl, and Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I enjoy the larger than life characters and scenarios that take place in these worlds. They feel so real, until you really think about it…does a chemistry teacher really have what it takes to become a drug kingpin?

What was the hardest part about getting this film made?

The hardest part of creating ANGELS OF ANBAR was being so honest. As I wrote the script, I genuinely worried that my former Army supervisors would hunt me down and punish me for revealing things like the drug use or trading with Iraqi soldiers for booze. But I felt like it was time to tell the whole story of our deployment, without omissions for the sake of being politically correct, and based on how well the film was received by my fellow soldiers, I would say they agreed. Keeping all those secrets, thoughts and emotions trapped inside had caused too much chaos over the years. ANGELS OF ANBAR was created with the help of the Center for Digital Storytelling, a 3-day intensive workshop that helps you write a script and edit a video using only personal pictures and videos. This was a therapeutic and healing process. I’m fortunate to have been hired by this organization and I now facilitate workshops.

What do you want viewers to take away with them after watching your film?

ANGELS OF ANBAR is just as much about getting the story off my chest as it is about showing civilians that the military experience is much more complex and multi-faceted than the stupid question of “Did you kill anyone?”

Every Veteran comes home with a painful and beautiful story like the one I tell in the film. I hope to see more Veterans tell these stories through tools like art or film. It’s important for their own healing process and also for helping civilians better understand what Veterans go through.

What is a fun fact about you that would surprise people?

My favorite color is yellow, but I never wear it and I’m moving to London in the Fall of 2015!

Angels of Anbar, directed by Elvis Leon, is playing at Angelika on May 23 2015. Click here for tickets.