'Tarawa' doc spurs rescue mission, sequel

Film centers on a former commander in 1943 battle

Steven Barber's indie doc "Return to Tarawa: The Leon Cooper Story," which was made for peanuts, is having a payoff.

Not only did the investigative piece play to stalwart ratings on Discovery's Military Channel, but it might have played a role in getting Congress to authorize a recovery effort on the far-off atoll of the film's title to search for remains of Marines missing in action during World War II.

According to Barber, the soon-to-take-place recovery mission will be "'CSI'-style," using what he calls "the largest forensic anthropology lab in the world," while his own company, Vanilla Fire Prods., goes along to document the effort.

Barber is scouting for a narrator to follow in the footsteps of Ed Harris, who voiced the original doc.

The working title of the follow-up is "Tarawa: The Un-Recovered."

In the original film shot in 2008, Barber and a film crew went out to the atoll of Tarawa in the island nation of Kirabati accompanied by the 88-year-old Cooper, who had been a 22-year-old Higgins Boat commander in the 1943 Battle of Tarawa in which 1,113 Marines were killed in a three-day span.

While on the island, Barber heard rumors of lost Marines whose remains were never repatriated. After the broadcast on the Military Channel, Barber and Cooper received hundreds of e-mails from families seemingly corroborating the rumors.

Barber is now doing interviews in Hawaii for the doc and then will embed for a month with forensic specialists as they begin excavations on Tarawa. "The possibility of finding Marines from the battle is very high," he said.

The budget for preproduction and shooting of the second pic is about $50,000.