Youngstown’s Human War

By Gabrielle Fellows

Photo courtesy of Pirooz Kalayeh.

“I hate my own work. I never think it is good enough. I hate all of my old books and never understand why anyone would e-mail me to tell me they like my book,” Noah Cicero wrote, an author and former resident of Vienna, Ohio.

Cicero’s critically acclaimed book, “The Human War,” spins a tale of Mark Swift, a young man living in Youngstown, Ohio who struggles with the hardships of being an overworked, underpaid and anxiety ridden youth in the midst of America’s declaration of war against Iraq.

“The Human War” was published in September of 2003 and was made into an independent movie by director Pirooz Kalayeh in 2013 — filmed entirely in Youngstown.

The Little Youngstown Cinema will screen the film May 23 at 9 p.m. in the downstairs portion of the Erie Terminal building. While The Little Youngstown Cinema mainly features art-house and Criterion Collection films, the group felt it was important to showcase the Youngstown film community by giving it an outlet for its product.

“I felt this movie deserved a Youngstown screening … I think it’s positive that [Cicero] wrote a book and it became a movie. I think his success is a great example that you can accomplish anything no matter where you come from or what your background is,” Aspasia Lyras, co-runner of The Little Youngstown Cinema, said  “… I think it’s wonderful that this film pertains to a darker side of the city. I feel that that is more real and relatable … I always thought a proper showing here makes perfect sense.”

Cicero said that the book was inspired by his personal confusion over the rapid change the US was taking — from the end of the Vietnam War, the shootings at Columbine, the falling of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001 and the decision to go to war in 2003. He explains that although his feelings are accurately portrayed in both the book and the movie, he still feels strange about revisiting his view of the past.

“It was very scary and weird. ‘The Human War’ is very much about my life in 2003 and the movie wasn’t finished till 2013, so it was 10 years after,” Cicero said. “It was like re-watching my life all over again … When I wrote ‘The Human War,’ I was 22-years-old living in my parents house in Vienna, Ohio. I don’t think I had a job or anything. It has been 12 years since then and a lot has happened.”

Kalayeh said that after reading Cicero’s novella, he had persistent recurring dreams about “The Human War” as a film, claiming he could see stills of the movie as if it had already been made. He contacted Cicero shortly after requesting to purchase the rights to film. The two met in the Youngstown Denny’s and production for the movie began.

Shooting the film in the area that was written about in the story was important to Kalayeh.

“I wouldn’t have done the film if we didn’t shoot in Youngstown … The landscape is just different. I loved the beauty of the downtown streets and all the mansions up and down Main Street and the Yankee Kitchen and Royal Oaks … I remember driving around taking pictures with Noah. In my head, I could already see the main character … driving around just like we were. Suddenly, you realize there’s nowhere else you could make this film,” Kalayeh said. “Then Noah raises the stakes even higher: ‘You gotta make this film,’ he tells me. ‘No one else but you can do it.’ Then, just like that, I agree. Youngstown is a special place. Like Noah, it’s personal and real. That’s why I wanted to shoot there. I trusted that.”

Tickets for The Little Youngstown Cinema’s screening of “The Human War” can be purchased for $8 at or for $10 at the door or at Joe Maxx Coffee Company.