Soldier of Paint

Doug Gritzmacher ’98 and Michael DeChant Jr.
Double Six Productions, 2013

Through clouds of smoke, soldiers call out to each other at Omaha Beach in the Normandy fields they recreated in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. Paintballs fly through the air as Allied troops storm toward concrete pillboxes filled with Axis troops intent on preventing the invasion.

It’s a hot, humid June day at the world’s largest paintball game, an annual reenactment of D-Day on 710 private acres. Thousands of paintball enthusiasts gather for this monumental event, captured in all of its chaos and camaraderie in the documentary film Soldiers of Paint. Hailing from New Orleans, Chicago, Norway, England, Germany, and numerous other places, men, women, and teenagers come together for this massive event where they fight for strategic points from the historical battles in Normandy. In real life, they are IT consultants, DJs, even real soldiers, but when they get to D-Day, the players become World War II troops, generals, tank drivers, and spymasters.

The film’s gripping “you are there” approach to the paintball combat infuses drama into the crackle of paintball guns and the improvisation of commanders when plans go awry. The camera follows soldiers jumping from landing boats from the “English Channel” (a small reservoir), climbing hills, and falling in the trenches as they’re struck with paintballs. The elaborate 52-foot reconstruction of a French church at Colleville, along with other buildings, make the battlefield feel like the epic 1944 invasion, as do Panzer tanks built from beater trucks, paintball bazookas to shoot those tanks, and even a restored WWII-era plane to do reconnaissance during the battle.

Interviews with the event’s founder Dewayne Covirs and players show the daunting logistics of planning an event of this magnitude. For a game with no money or trophy to win, the participants spend significant amounts of time planning strategy, preparing replica materials, and trying to spy on each other, even before the day of battle. This is not a true reenactment, though. While the locations and layout reflect the conditions at D-Day, the Germans here have a good chance of beating the Allies.

Much of the drama is due to the camera work of Gritzmacher, an experienced cinematographer and director of photography with credentials in filming for the National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, and a number of other programs like The Amazing Race, in addition to his documentaries. His ability to portray the combination of recreation and spectacle in playing war makes the film stand out as a view into an extraordinary event.

Gritzmacher wanted to be a filmmaker since high school, but migrated toward print journalism at The Daily Evergreen at WSU. He pursued his film career after graduate studies at American University. When they heard about the D-Day competition, Gritzmacher and his colleague decided to undertake Soldiers of Paint because they saw a chance to make an action-adventure film in the form of a documentary.

Soldiers of Paint can be purchased through soldiersofpaint.com, and is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix.