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Traumatic toll: ‘Warfighter’ follows Navy SEAL’s struggle with PTSD

One never knows when inspiration will strike.

The trick is to be aware when it does.

This is a lesson Jerry G. Angelo has learned over the years – and it’s paid off.

The filmmaker’s latest project, “Warfighter,” will screen in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe this coming week.

The film follows Rusty Wittenburg, played by Angelo, who is a Navy SEAL struggling to balance his family life and his job.

He fights daily to maintain the line between reality and the nightmares his post-traumatic stress disorder conjures up for him.

Dedicated to his team and his mission, he is willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow brothers and teammates.

“I was on the set of ‘Lone Survivor,’ and one day I was standing next to Marcus Luttrell and we were about 50 yards outside of the parking lot,” he says. “There was this fake helicopter, and they were re-creating the scene where all of the guys got killed. I could feel this incredible weight from Marcus on being the only survivor. That’s when the first ember of inspiration came for me to tell that story.”

For three years, the Albuquerque native pored over the script and raised money to film the production.

“The writing process was pretty awesome,” he says. “I didn’t know what the story would be, per se, but I knew the emotions. I wanted to make my first film to be a perfect footprint of who I am as a storyteller.”

Angelo and his Fire Born Studios have been doing a small theatrical run with the film.

The film will screen tonight at the South Broadway Cultural Center for free, and the showing is sponsored by the Albuquerque Film Office. It will then screen at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe on Tuesday, June 12.

Angelo encourages veterans and their families to attend the screening.

“Seeing the film on the big screen, it’s powerful,” he says. “What’s beautiful is how the message spreads. The moviegoers start to open up about their stories. That’s become a magnificent part to this journey. For every screening we’ve had, one person is able to tell a story, and you hear these voices that have been silent for so long. It’s OK for them to open up.”

The film was made in Los Angeles and Nevada, and there were 28 days total.

Angelo enlisted many actors and crew from New Mexico for the production.

“We’ve started with a grass-roots campaign for the film,” Angelo says. “Our mission is to build it one person and audience at a time. The entire film is a tribute to our service men and women. It brings awareness to PTSD and what happens when they get home.”

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