Two films, two wars

Two films dealing with war and politics in the tinderbox of the Middle East are coming to Newport-Mesa for one-night special screenings.

The city of Costa Mesa on Friday night will host a screening of "Patrol Base Jaker" at the Triangle Square Cinemas. The documentary, directed by David Scantling, follows the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Battalion, 5th Marines — otherwise known as the "1/5" — during a 2009-10 deployment to Afghanistan.

The group is the city's adopted military unit.

And on Wednesday night, the Chabad Jewish Center of Newport Beach will screen "Killing Kasztner," a historical documentary directed by Gaylen Ross.

Her film tells the story of a Hungarian Jew, Rezsö Kasztner, who became a controversial figure in Israeli politics in the 1950s, because of his World War II role in striking a deal with Adolf Eichmann and the Nazi high command in occupied Budapest to spare 1,684 Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.

After their films' respective screenings, the two filmmakers will appear separately for live discussions with local audiences.

Proceeds from the screening of "Patrol Base Jaker" will go to the 1/5 Support Group and Socks for Heroes, a program to send fresh pairs of socks to Marines.

Proceeds from Wednesday's screening at the Chabad Jewish Center will go to its Friendship Circle program, which reaches out to children and families with special needs in Orange County, said Rabbi Reuven Mintz, the center's director.

Both of the events are open to the public.


'Patrol Base Jaker'

Scantling is a relative newcomer to documentary filmmaking, but he largely self-financed the film and shot a lot of its in-field footage in Afghanistan on his own.

The 45-year-old married father of six previously worked for IBM and Hewlett-Packard, and now heads his own business, Scantling Technology Ventures LLC, based in Akron, Ohio. His only other film credit was as a co-executive producer with actor Gary Sinise on "Brothers at War."

That documentary about the war in Iraq, by Jake Rademacher, won the Best Documentary Feature Award at the 2008 G.I. Film Festival. Sinise is one of the founders of the festival, a nonprofit organization devoted to telling the wartime and peacetime stories of servicemen and women on film.

Scantling produced and directed "Patrol Base Jaker," which he plans to release in January or February, and shot a lot of the in-country footage on his own. His film about the 1/5's deployment to Afghanistan's Helmand Province won the award in the same category at the 2011 G.I. Film Festival.

In an interview, he said he had no formal training in the craft but taught himself the basic skills during the weeks leading up to his departure for Afghanistan in Fall 2009.

"My biggest learning curve was learning how you tell stories through a documentary," he said.

Scantling said that his prior experience of working in Iraq in the mid-2000s as a civilian employed by the Pentagon partly motivated him to make his own film about the war in Afghanistan.

The American media's reporting on the situation in Iraq had been "so far off from what I was seeing and experiencing" there, Scantling said.

After returning from a trip to Iraq, Scantling met Rademacher, a fellow Notre Dame graduate, at an alumni reunion. On that occasion Rademacher was showing his film to other Fighting Irish graduates but was struggling to finance it.

That's where Scantling and Sinise came in, backing him with money for the film. The subsequent success of Rademacher's documentary reinforced Scantling's motivation to do his own film.

He spent more than $6,000 of his own money to purchase three cameras for his trip, including a Sony Handycam with infrared night-vision capability and a Canon DSLR camera, which could be purchased at the neighborhood Best Buy.

Scantling spent one month in Helmand's Nawa District with 1,300 Marines — most of whom were with the 1/5. Before his arrival, Nawa had been a hotbed of Taliban activity. Attacks on coalition forces had died down by the time he got there, but the area was still dangerous enough, he said.

Scantling has dedicated his film to four Marines who were killed in combat there, including Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan of San Clemente, who is to posthumously receive the Navy Cross — the Navy and Marine Corps' highest honor for valor in combat.

Hogan's parents are to join Scantling and Col. Robert Castellvi, chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, at Friday's screening in Costa Mesa.

"The film does an outstanding job of depicting the courage and sacrifices of the Marines of 1/5 and their professionalism and total commitment to the mission, to each other, and to the Afghan people," Castellvi said in an email from Camp Pendleton. "The filmmaker went to great lengths to let the actions and words of the Marines and their Afghan partners tell the story."


'Killing Kasztner'

By contrast, Gaylen Ross, 61, is a veteran documentary filmmaker. The former actress, who lives in New York, has made documentaries about that city's diamond dealers, about Nazi gold kept in Swiss banks, and about Russian mail-order brides.

When she was filming her first film about the Holocaust, "Blood Money: Switzerland's Nazi Gold," Ross said she met a woman who told her that she had been a passenger on "the Kasztner train."

Ross didn't know what the woman was talking about, but the remark piqued her curiosity about Kasztner. She likened him to a Jewish version of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, the German and Swedish businessmen who had separately helped rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

"Jews rescuing Jews is now a part of the conversation," Ross said in a phone interview.

In 1944, when Germany invaded Hungary, Kasztner negotiated directly with Eichmann to secure freedom and safe passage to a neutral country for 1,684 Hungarian Jews.

They were transported by train from Budapest to a safe haven in Switzerland, but their train was detained for several months at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Eichmann was the senior SS officer who oversaw logistics for the mass deportation of Jews to concentration and extermination camps throughout Nazi-occupied Europe as part of Hitler's genocidal "Final Solution" campaign.

Israel executed Eichmann in May 1962, two years after Israeli agents captured him in Argentina, where he had been hiding out since the war's end. They took him to Israel, where the authorities put him on trial in 1961 for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other charges.

Right-wing Israeli circles suspected Kasztner, a post-war émigré to Israel, of having been a Nazi collaborator who betrayed his people rather than being a wartime savior. After the Israeli government filed a libel suit on Kasztner's behalf, an Israeli extremist, Ze'ev Eckstein, shot him dead in 1957.

Ross' film documents a face-to-face encounter that Kasztner's daughter has more than 50 years later with her father's killer.

Arthur Stern, now 86 and living in Beverly Hills, was one of the 1,684 on the train.

He said he plans to join Ross in CdM at Wednesday night's screening of her film that garnered showings at Toronto International Film Festival, among other festivals.

While some in Israel have branded Kasztner as a traitor who sold out to the Nazis in other ways, Stern "without question" credits him for having rescued him along with his parents and brother from extermination through the Final Solution.

"He was an extremely dedicated Zionist leader and he did what he could," Stern said. "Of course, there was a lot of dissatisfaction because he couldn't save everybody. He was able to do what he was able to do."

Twitter: @ImranVittachi


If You Go

What: "Patrol Base Jaker"

Where: Triangle Square Cinemas, 1870 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa

When: 7 p.m. Friday

For ticket information: Go to

What: "Killing Kasztner"

Where: Chabad Jewish Center of Newport Beach, 2865 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

For ticket information: Go to

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