By MARK WALKER
Despite serving in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, former Camp Pendleton Marine Mike Scotti says the defining moment in his military career happened two years later in Iraq when he encountered a field full of corpses.
“I became a veteran at the moment I smelled death,” he said.
That kind of raw comment typifies one of the latest cinematic accounts of the Iraq war, “Severe Clear,” a film produced from hours of tape shot by Scotti during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The film that will be shown at a Gaslamp Stadium theater starting Friday is no-holds barred, raw account of Scotti’s experience and that of the Marines from Camp Pendleton’s 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.
“What really distinguishes the movie is that it is a first-person account of a war combatant,” Scotti said during a telephone interview last week. “What I hope people walk away with is an intimate understanding of what it’s like to serve in combat.”
Scotti served as an artillery liaison officer. The film follows his journey from Camp Pendleton to Kuwait and into Iraq and a 300-mile campaign to Baghdad.
The 90-minute movie doesn’t pull any punches. It shows typical infantry Marines being prepped for the invasion and airs their uncensored comments and actions during fighting on the march to the Iraqi capital.
Its producers say it offers “an unflinching look at the uncertainty, disorder and chaos of war.”
Scotti, who left the Marine Corps shortly after returning from Iraq and is currently on a hiatus from investment banking as the film screens around the country, said he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I never cared too much about the politics behind it —- what I cared about was telling the intimate stories of the guys that fight in the war,” he said.
Scotti had taken a video camera with him during a 2001 deployment with Camp Pendleton’s 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit that was supposed to be a cruise through the Pacific.
But when the terror attacks of 9/11 came, the Marines were ordered to the Middle East. His first assignment was in Pakistan to help prepare an emergency airfield. When that work was done, his unit was part of the invasion of Afghanistan, where he served until early 2002.
Having his own video of that experience convinced him that if he was going to Iraq, he also should chronicle that service if for nothing else than a film diary for his family.
When he got back from Iraq, Scotti pooled his video along with that shot by a few other Marines. The footage eventually came to the attention of filmmaker Kristian Fraga and producer Marc Perez, and the result is the stark look at war.
The inclusion of scenes showing buildings being shelled, firefights and the lifeless bodies of insurgents, civilians and troops is simply part of the effort to be honest, the 33-year-old Scotti said.
“If you didn’t include those, you wouldn’t be fully experiencing the combat we went through,” he said.
The films has won honors at several film festivals, and Scotti said he hopes it will be available for sale on military bases.
He also wants to donate a portion of the proceeds of eventual DVD sales to ReserveAid, a nonprofit group he is a member of that provides financial support to families of reservists have money troubles.