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Back from battle: ‘Between Wars’ explores struggle of return to civilian life after combat

Michael Imperioli in a scene from the independent film “Between Wars.” (Courtesy of Between Wars Film)

Like many other filmmakers, Tom Phillips had to make a tough decision when it came to distribution for his film.

The film was already accepted to numerous film festivals, and then the world changed.

Phillips was left with the urge to have people see the film, so he decided to go the on-demand route with Vimeo.

“We were lucky to have this option,” he says. “I’ve helped other people make films all my life. This is the first time I step out to write and direct. It’s been a journey of more than 10 years and plenty of false starts.”

“Between Wars” takes an intimate look at the struggle of reentering civilian life after combat.

It follows Marine veteran Franny Malloy of the Bronx, played by Shaun Paul Costello, as he struggles with integrating himself back into civilian life after duty in Afghanistan.

Battling PTSD and self-destructive behaviors, he finds his only hope in Marine-turned-PTSD-psychologist Sarge, played by Michael Imperioli. Punk legend Harley Flanagan plays McManus, old school Bronx Irish gangster and general madman.

Writer/director Tom Phillips (Courtesy of Between Wars Film)

“Working with Tom is exactly what independent filmmaking should be. Hit the ground running, roaming the streets, stealing shots, running and gunning,” Imperioli says in a statement. “It’s as far away from Hollywood as you can get and that’s the way we like it. All passion, inspiration, and fearlessness. Tom is as indomitable and tenacious as they come and that’s what it takes to make a truly independent movie … without a studio, on a shoestring budget, and defying the odds.”

The film was shot in nine days.

The crew worked 15-hour days and nights.

“It’s a very low-budget independent film,” Phillips says. “Everything we did was raw and gritty.”

Phillips says the screenplay, although optioned by Hollywood, sat on a shelf for nearly two years.

At the same time, co-writer and friend Joe Panebianco was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, which he continues to fight.

This heartbreaking situation fueled Phillips’ resolve to shoot the film himself.

“As an artist, I knew breaking rules was imperative for this story,” Phillips says. “In fact, the more rules the artists involved wanted to break, the more dynamic the story became. Anyone who came to work on this project learned very quickly that this was a different flow and the players were creating something different – allowing the actors on set to explore their ideas and use it in a way that would vibrate through the screen into the soul of the audience was the intention.”

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