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Bellavia, filmmaker sign deal to make movie of war experience

David Bellavia's wartime experiences continue, but now in a way he hopes an entire nation will appreciate.

The Republican congressional candidate from Batavia has just signed a film deal with an Oscar-winning director to tell the story of winning the Silver Star during the intense battle for Fallujah in 2004.

Bellavia already has recounted the battle in a best-selling book, "House to House: an Epic Memoir of War."

And these days he often refers to his military background as he runs against former County Executive Chris Collins for the right to face Democratic Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul in November. But no matter what results from his attempt to enter politics, his account of Fallujah and his own journey as a soldier will be spotlighted now that he has signed a deal with filmmaker Rich Middlemas of Five Smooth Stones Productions.

"It's really exciting," Bellavia said. "I've been talking to people in Hollywood since before the book. And after walking that line, I wanted to tell a great story and pay homage to the men there with me."

Bellavia's book, published by Simon & Schuster, appeared in 2007 to critical acclaim and commercial success. It recounts the hand-to-hand combat his infantry unit encountered in Fallujah, where he was serving as a staff sergeant. It is a personal account of combat, complete with descriptions of killing several insurgents during one of the most intense battles of the Iraq War.

Bellavia thinks the time has arrived for the nation to reflect on the controversial and deadly conflict.

"It seems that every Iraq movie has been poorly received because the war was so fresh," he said. "But with bin Laden's death, we start to see where people are into positive stories."

Middlemas also is upbeat about prospects for the film, which still needs a script and a cast, and will probably not hit theaters for another two years. He says he was "blown away" by Bellavia's literary account and felt the need to make not only an action film but a personal testament as well.

"It strikes me very much as a hero's journey," Middlemas said. "When the bullets started flying, these guys were fighting like lions for each other. And it's all about story for me."

Middlemas has earned his own share of critical acclaim in recent months since his film about high school football in inner-city Memphis, "Undefeated," won the Oscar for best documentary feature in February. The story follows volunteer coach Bill Courtney, a Memphis businessman who mentored high school athletes dealing with poverty and broken homes.

"In 'Undefeated,' football was the backdrop for coming of age," Middlemas said. "['House to House'] is really a coming-of-age story about David and the things that happened to him as he finds his manhood."

Middlemas also thinks the nation is ready for such a story.

"We're starting to see more of these films emerge," he said, "and more of a focus on the men and their bravery."

"This will be an action-packed, close-combat story, but also [a story] about someone setting out on a journey," he added. "It's an opportunity to do something really powerful about what this young man had to go through."

Bellavia said Middlemas has demonstrated through his previous work that the story of Fallujah can be translated into something beyond explosions and exploitation.

"This is about 'Can we tell a realistic story?' " he said. "It will be an accurate and beautiful story about men doing heir thing. We'll see if we get it right."

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com