PARK CITY, Utah — “War Game” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday at the Prospector Theater. Not quite a documentary, not quite a feature, certainly not a short, it was aptly categorized as a ‘special screening.’
Intended to ‘spark conversations,’ one of the cast said at the Q&A, “Nothing like this has happened in D.C. before,” referring to the intricately layered viewing experience that is “War Game.”
The film did have a musical score; however, at times, it was hard to determine whether it was the beat that was being heard in the theater or the audience’s collective hard-thumping heartbeats.
A bipartisan group of U.S. defense, intelligence and elected policymakers spanning five presidential administrations participate in an unscripted role-play exercise in which they confront a political coup backed by rogue members of the U.S. military in the wake of a contested presidential election.
Award-winning filmmakers Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber seize a unique opportunity to bring audiences tableside to a simulation that dramatically escalates the threat posed by Jan. 6, 2021. With the grip of a thriller, “War Game” posits active-duty military breaking ranks to join an insurrection that soon spreads to other state capitals, yielding a chilling moment when it’s unclear whether the president fully commands the armed forces. The simulation’s outcome hinges on several inflection points, from the government’s capacity to counter the disinformation that’s effectively spread by the insurgent side to the potential invocation of the Insurrection Act (i.e., the last resort). While the exercise served to stress test our institutions, the film is a critical wake-up call, underscoring the urgent need for bipartisanship in safeguarding American democracy.
Many people turned down the opportunity to be involved in this film. The following is a list including those who did not:
- Wesley Clark, Retired U.S. Army General
- Doug Jones, Former U.S. Senator of Alabama
- Alexander Vindman, Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel
- Heidi Heitkamp, Former U.S. Senator of North Dakota
- Steve Bullock, Former Governor of Montana
- Janessa Goldbeck, CEO of Vet Voice, Marine Corp Veteran
- Linda Singh, Retired Major General
- Elizabeth Neuman, Former Homeland Security Dept. Deputy Chief of Staff
- Peter Strzok, Former FBI Agent
- Jack Tomarchio, Former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis
- Gwen Camp, Former FEMA Official
- Benjamin Radd, University Fellow, global government expertise
- Chris Jones, Veteran
- Kris Goldsmith, Veteran
Referencing Jan. 6, 2021, “War Game” was filmed on Jan. 6, 2023, in a Washington, D.C. hotel conference room. They filmed in the same hotel where ‘insurrectionists’ stayed two years earlier, thereby “reclaiming it,” said filmmakers. In the film, the action takes place on Jan. 6, 2025. That sounds like it’s mind-bending, though it’s more like mind-blowing.
No actual political party, politician or fringe groups are named as such in the film.
One quote spoken by a lead participant towards the end of the film is, “That was f—— awesome, and I don’t usually use that word, ‘awesome.'”
Another quote in the film by a lead toward the beginning is, “You’ve managed to piss off some of the highest ranking officials from five presidential administrations,” followed by a non-sarcastic, “Great job!”
And one more quote in the film by one of the veterans, closer to the ‘fin’ is, “The veteran brand in America has been damaged.”
In the Q&A, one of the participants on the stage said to the audience that the only way this country can navigate through our polarized government realities “is with love.” And a different participant said is “with votes.”
A multitude of jobs are created in Summit County during the annual Sundance Film Festival. “War Game” is merely one of many screenings that require extra security personnel, considering the sheer number of VIPs.
On this voting ballot, “War Game” gets a four out of four stars.
“War Game’s” distribution destiny is not necessarily the same as most Sundance Films, which is to ultimately be widely shown in neighborhood theaters nationwide. Instead, the potential for it to be shown in high schools and on college campuses is a more “logical” trajectory, according to one of the co-directors. But, he adds, they’re certainly open to all ideas to get it in front of the most applicable eyeballs possible.
In the Green Room group photo shoot, one of the production’s connections quipped, “Insurrection on three-eee. Oh wait, no, NOT that, NO insurrection on three-eee. ” Laughter filled the room. These filmmakers keep laughing, perhaps to keep from crying.
Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary later on the Tuesday night of the “War Game” screening.