Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow Presents: I DECLARE WAR

Armed with nothing more than twigs, their imaginations and a simple set of rules, a group of 12-year-olds engaged in a lively game of Capture the Flag in the neighborhood woods start dangerously blurring the lines between make-believe and reality. Rocks = Grenades. Trees = Control towers. Sticks = Submachine guns. The youthful innocence of the game gradually takes on a different tone as the quest for victory pushes the boundaries of friendship. The would-be warriors get a searing glimpse of humanity’s dark side as their combat scenario takes them beyond the rules of the game and into an adventure where fantasy combat clashes with the real world.

Earlier this month a couple of the Cinapse crew were lucky enough to attend an Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow presentation of I Declare War, the newest acquisition of Drafthouse Films. In timing with the release of the film this Friday, August 30th, we’re running two articles, this one covering the event as well as a Q&A with the cast and crew. I had already seen the film back in 2012 at the 8th Fantastic Fest where I Declare War took home the audience award as well as the distribution deal with Drafthouse Films. I was thoroughly impressed at the time and thought it well deserving of the praise and was happy to revisit it at this event.

The film follows the conflict between two teams, one led by War Champion PK (Gage Munroe), and the other ultimately by Skinner (Michael Friend) who takes the rules of war somewhat more loosely than the rest of the players. The objective is to capture the other team’s flag, if you get shot, you have to freeze for 10 ‘speedboats’, when you get hit with a grenade (balloon filled with red paint), you’re dead and out of the game. Simple reconnaissance missions and attacks escalate into actual physical harm, kidnapping and interrogations, driven by urges as simple as the desire for victory or interpreting war as a means of measuring social standings.

While a fake game, the interactions between the kids, the interesting dynamic shifts and manipulation when a girl is thrown into the mix are all very real and easy to associate with. The film captures what it’s like to be a 12-year old boy perfectly perhaps in a similar way to Stand By Me, without dumbing down how it treats children. It has a feeling of nostalgia and is permeated with the sense of adventure that comes with being a kid. I think I enjoyed it even more on a second viewing, a charming and fun film.

Of course, this being a Rolling Roadshow, it was no simple movie screening we were in store for. In keeping with the nature of the film, the pre-show events were hosted at Stunt Ranch in the Hill Country outside Austin, Texas. Attendees were allowed free reign to indulge in a live explosion photo booth (see the Cinapse crew pose at the end of this article), a salt water pool for swimming and a UT Tower (famous local landmark) rock wall. Also zip lines and a 25ft high tower jump with a high fall airbag just so you can recreate the scene from Lethal Weapon however many times as you like. Our illustrious editor Ed decided to ignore the one rule of the tower jump, don’t do a belly flop, with comedic results (photo again below). The real event before the screening was the paintball game. I was fortunate enough to be part of the ‘Press Vs Kids’ battle whereupon Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse and Drafthouse Films CEO/Founder) led into battle a group of press and other ‘grow-ups’ against a group of under 16 year old kids who had been running around all afternoon. The idea that they had possibly worn themselves out proved of little comfort when it was pointed out to me that the adults were all slightly boozed up thus negating any advantage we may have. Thankfully ‘age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill’ and the grown-ups proved victorious after two matches. A numerical advantage having nothing to do with the victory. Damn fine BBQ provided by Micklethwait Craft Meats and quality beer from the folks at Thirsty Planet Brewing Company (both out of Austin, Texas) capped off the evening as we settled down to watch a great film. Another spectacular event from the Rolling Roadshow and another great addition to the already impressive Drafthouse Films stable.

Malachi Constant:

I hope there is a time, a few short years from now, when my son is going through our film collection and he stumbles across I Declare War. He’ll ask what it’s about. I’ll be vague, but sure to pique his interest. He’ll ask to watch and I’ll respond, “maybe when you’re 10, or so.” He’ll wait until his mother and I are asleep and sneak out to the living room to watch what should quickly become his favorite film, but in secret. He’ll share it with all of his friends and he’ll think he’s done something wholly subversive and dangerous. Yes, goddammit, I know it’s a Drafthouse Film and it will make its way to Netflix at some point, and my romantic Rousseauian plan will be thwarted by tech.

All of that said, I too first saw I Declare War at Fantastic Fest 2012. However, I found myself well within the minority coming out of the screening. Though I was impressed by the strong character driven narrative and a bit of the imagination of the film, nothing presented feels as dangerous as it’s aesthetic would suggest. This isn’t Lord of the Flies (Golding, 1954) or Stand by Me (1986), and I fail to understand why anyone is strongly stating that there’s any equivalency here. The kids are playing a game of war in the woods; it’s slightly more unfettered than the playground. The kids aren’t going to devolve into an animalistic frenzy, but rather play out the difficulties of jr. high: the loss of friends, the jealousy that creeps, feelings of being disposable or lost. It’s a near perfect representation of 8th grade, male politics.… as told by 12 year old boys.

Though it nails the interactions of middle school boys, I found the character arc of Jess a bit disturbing. Jess is the only female character in the film. The good, she’s brilliant and crafty and more than capable of taking care of herself. The bad, the whole of her arc is that she wants to win in order to impress a crush. She manipulates any and all of the male characters with whom she comes into contact, and in her last scene we leave her begging and sobbing with little character closure. Instead, we get a female character that is really the extent of male misunderstanding of women at 12 years of age. The film perfectly executes displays of male adolescent anxieties, but has nothing to offer as sober reflection upon those often problematic reactions toward the opposite sex.

I Declare War is available on iTunes, VOD and for digital download now
 — The film will be available in theaters Friday, August 30th. Click here to find screenings nearest you.

Event Photos, Photo Credit Jack Plunkett:

Cinapse Crew Photos Credit Ed Travis:

Photo Booth Photos, Photo Credit Annie Ray:

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