While this scribe wasn’t hugely familiar with the previous works of Dog Tags writer-director Damion Dietz, it seems the family melodrama of his latest film is a world away from the campy satire of earlier films like Fag Hag (1998) and Respect My Ass (1996).

“It’s probably a good thing you didn’t see my other films! I’m sort of known for making underground culty comedies, but this film really stands apart from those,” Dietz told Sydney Star Observer from his Los Angeles home.

Dog Tags is the story of Nate, a young Marines recruit struggling to figure out what’s real and what’s false in a life filled with the lies of his mother and his fiancée. A chance encounter with openly gay outsider Andy provides the catalyst for him to start living as his own man.

“Dog Tags was a story I’d wanted to tell for a long time. I was inspired by a meeting I had in Palm Springs with a Marine who was a lot like Nate. We spent some time together,” Dietz said coyly, “and afterwards I started to think about how much I really knew him. From there, the idea for the film grew.”

Newcomer Paul Priess turns in a solid performance as Nate — but surely it was something of a risk for Dietz, casting a complete unknown in his lead role?

“It was, but he was just right. Being in Los Angeles, I saw so many people — everyone here wants to be an actor. A few names were thrown around, but there wasn’t anybody I could think of who I thought would be right.

“Then came Paul … there’s something about his eyes. He embodies that blank slate, you can project your own stuff on to him.”

While the two men’s relationship turns sexual during the course of the film, there’s an ambiguity to Nate’s character that leaves viewers wondering where his true feelings lie.

“I couldn’t say if Nate is gay or not. As a character he has this malleable sexuality that’s very hard to pin down. Paul captures that so well. I know certain members of the gay audience have found that grey area disappointing, but I think it’s fascinating.”

It’s not giving too much away to reveal that Dog Tags ends on a bittersweet note — there’s hope in sight for both Nate and Andy, but their future isn’t together.

Dietz said the film’s ending had also divided audiences.

“I’ve found that I can tell so much about a person by what they think of the ending of the film. I personally think it’s an extremely uplifting ending, but I know some people found it very depressing.

“I think films are like those inkblot pictures at a psychiatrist’s — everyone sees something different, everyone projects their own stuff on to it.”

info: Dog Tags is out on DVD now through Love Films.

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