|Index||7 reviews in total|
I just saw this at a local screening and found out that it's going to show on PBS in April. If you didn't catch it in theaters, mark your calendars it is an extremely compelling story of the Iraq war told through the eyes of the men and woman who've fought there. I first read about it in the New Yorker a couple of years ago the National Endowment for the Arts sponsored this program where those fighting the war and their friends/families were encouraged to write letters chronicling their experience. Even on paper they were moving accounts and I believe actual writers and literary figures were involved to help mentor them, etc. This is like our generation's eye witness account of day to day life in Iraq and Afghanistan and having friends who are marines over there, this really hit me hard. The way the film shows the stories, I think, is very powerful and brings out the impact of the words there are excerpts from each person's letter read over by celebrities (Robert Duvall and Josh Lucas were two I recognized), who really dramatize the situation told in the letters, and each section has different visual theme. Some are animated, some are reenactment of the story, or simply scenery from the war zone. It's more personal and heartfelt than any other war reporting I've seen through the media, even the embedded journalist and such, and I think everyone should check it out if they get a chance. Like I said, this will be shown on PBS later this spring as part of a series called America at a Crossroads (http://www.pbs.org/weta/crossroads/) and there seem to be a companion piece to this film called Warriors that will also broadcast on April 16. Based on what I've seen here, I am planning on checking out to whole series, as it seems like the films will give a variety of perspectives into what we're facing in the war today.
I think I've been socially hardened by documentaries that don't show
all sides of a story, or instill the documentary-makers' opinions or
images (see SICKO) in place of what should be being told.
So it is with a heavy sigh of relief that I wholeheartedly recommend this Academy Award nominated documentary, OPERATION HOMECOMING: WRITING THE WARTIME EXPERIENCE.
First let's look at why this film is so successful. It's fresh. Most war writings are done by established or well-groomed writers, giving them decent syntax, etc., but lacking that up-close and personal process that goes along with firing weapons and being fired at during war. And this is where Operation Homecoming succeeds. The writings are all firsthand accountings from soldiers who've walked the walk and talked the talk.
Secondly is the unique filming. Each segment contains a different milieu and a different style of filming. From animation to quick-flash photography of those that've given their lives, the stories are told in a highly interesting fashion that keeps the viewer very interested.
Thirdly is the internal conflict that so easily comes across. From the beginning of the film when soldiers discuss their upbringing from childhood and being told killing is wrong, to being thrown into a situation where you're trained to kill for "God and Country," the film watcher understands the conundrum these men and women are put into.
The final successful element is the men and women themselves and how they deal with tough situations. There's never the "Why am I here" question asked. They know why they're there. They don't care about policy or partisan politics or money or oil. They care about the guy to their left and right who's protecting their backside during a fire-fight.
Each 'chapter' (if you will) contains a title and the story of a soldier. From the grunts on the ground, to the medic flying the injured to Germany, to the honor guard who sees the dead to their final resting place, Operation Homecoming is truly a unique gem in the documentary genre.
"Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience" is an
Oscar-nominated documentary made up almost entirely of journal entries
and poems written by soldiers and marines in combat. Operation
Homecoming was a program developed by the National Endowment For the
Arts in which distinguished authors were sent to military bases in Iraq
and Afghanistan to teach soldiers and their families how to capture
their experiences of war on paper. Ultimately, thousands of pages worth
of personal reflections, in the form of essays, anecdotes and poems,
were submitted to the project, only a very small handful of which
could, by necessity, find their way into this film.
If nothing else, "Operation Homecoming" serves as an invaluable tool documenting what life is like for the common fighting man toiling in the trenches of not only these two specific wars but of any armed conflict. Notably absent from the film are statements and speeches made by military strategists, politicians and world leaders whose views we hear expressed ad infinitum and ad nauseam throughout the course of any military action. In their place are the thoughts and words of the men and women on the front lines, who day after day confront the actual face of war.
Through their essays and poems, these authors convey, with tremendous eloquence and insight, just what it means to live in near-constant fear of being injured or killed; or to see one's friends and comrades fall under a hail of bullets or be blown to smithereens by a detonated explosive; or to wrestle with the guilt of having snuffed out a fellow human being's life despite the fact that you've been raised from infancy to believe killing is wrong. As have many authors before them (Stephen Crane in "The Red Badge of Courage" comes first to mind), some of these writers show how the heroic idealism of a pre-war mindset can be instantly shattered when confronted with the brutal reality of life on the battlefield. For some, the writing has become almost a form of therapy, allowing them to process the experience in the hopes of eventually coming to terms with it all - if that's even possible.
The movie provides battle footage, still photos, staged reenactments and animation sequences, along with interviews with the actual writers and other authors on the subject (i.e., Anthony Swofford, Tobias Wolff) to visually complement and supplement the readings, which are delivered respectfully and movingly by such trained actors as Robert Duvall, Beau Bridges and Aaron Eckhart.
But all is not pure, unrelieved grimness. There is also a bit of gallows humor in the writing, designed to alleviate not only the stress of combat but the long stretches of intense boredom that are also, paradoxically, a part of life in the field. Indeed, there is probably not a single aspect of combat life that is not touched upon at some point in this film. It's that comprehensive.
This movie takes the issue out of the realm of the abstract, clearing away all the jingoism and false bravado that often go into depictions of war. These are just real people telling us their real stories in their own words, and some of them are absolutely heartbreaking. Through its honesty and artistry, the film becomes a stirring tribute to each and every one of the fine young men and women who have risked their lives - and given their lives - in battle. No matter your personal feelings about these particular wars or of war in general, you won't look at any of it in quite the same way again after seeing "Operation Homecoming."
And if you find yourself weeping - which you inevitably will - through the course of the film, you can do so without shame.
There are experiences that can never be truly traded away or passed
along, no matter how hard we try. The amazement and beauty of
childbirth, the crushing sorrow of losing a parent, or even the
serenity of knowing a job is well done. Try as we might, these things
exist inside us and everyone else will only feel a sliver of what it is
like through how we describe it. One of the most profound and life
altering experiences is war and no one is affected by it more than
those on the front lines. There is always training, there is always a
new method to try to prepare, but no one comes back from war the way
they went in. Our country is now in the midst of welcoming home
thousands upon thousands of soldiers from the fighting in Middle East
and those brave warriors face not only the struggles of reintegrating
into society (and finding a job), but figuring out rote answers to that
all too common question, "What was it like?" Those can be extremely
hard conversations to have, but this film documents a program trying to
help those soldier find a path to communication.
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience is an essay/memoir writing program that teaches soldiers how to use creative and journal style writing to get their thoughts and experiences cohesively onto paper. These tales of horror, fright, bravery and solitude pull the curtains away from the glorified image of war and patriotism, humanizing the soldiers.
The film brings together not only some of the authors of the essays, but also fellow writers, professionals in telling stories, who happen to also have personal experiences with wartime and being soldiers themselves. Together they weave a painfully accurate and unflinching tapestry of what wartime is really like, not painted in the bright red, white and blue of the flag, but doused in the blackest of night and dripping with the deep red of dead enemies, comrades and innocents. Some of them show the confusion suffered at the other end of a motor attack, while others detail the adrenaline rush of being ambushed and making the split second decisions on whether the person your sights is a combatant or a bystander, and does it even matter.
One by one, you hear about the deconstruction of the basic human belief to protect life as it rages against the programmed need to defend your country, your fellow soldiers and yourself. The documentary does not play itself out as a case for pacifism by any means, but there lingers a certain belief when the screen finally goes black that philosophers have intoned for years: in war, there is no winner.
Politics and beliefs aside, the real effort and success of this is the program itself and how it helps those soldiers returning from a living hell on earth, find their way back into a society that will never be completely theirs. It allows them to find a method of communication, almost a new way of speaking to the uninitiated about the nightmares they have lived through and continue to struggle with. More and more soldiers are coming back with PTSD and a variety of psychological issues, leading to drinking, drugs and a silently suffering uptick in post-return suicides. This program is certainly not the only weapon needed in the fight for the mental health of our returning warriors, but every effort counts and they're are worth it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For anyone who is interested, Operation Homecoming will be airing on Documentary Channel Sunday, July 8th at 8 PM. I'll definitely be watching! What I like about Operation Homecoming is that it gives a well-written, real life account of the men and women fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The poems and short stories being read were absolutely heartbreaking. I remember one poem, "Things a Soldier Should Know", was a list of everything this particular soldier wished he had known before going to the war. The part of that poem that struck me the most was "The people smiling in the street could be celebrating over your dead body tomorrow." This movie is an excellent education for the American public of the true nature of war.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is simply a case of 11 men who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan sharing their experiences. There's no preaching here on either side, but rather an honest sharing. The words of the combatants themselves provide the power, but the visuals presented in a variety of ways including graphic novel type animation are outstanding. You will recognize voices in some of the narration, most recognizably Robert Duval. This was of course on of the Oscar nominees among documentaries and most definitely earned its nomination. However you may feel about the war, you will find the viewing of this film well worth your time. This and also NO END IN SIGHT are very welcome additions to the insightful views of the Iraq war and indeed of war in general.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The director of this film Richard E. Robins has had experience in
directing. He directed The Century: America's Time, volumes one through
six. These films are narrated by Peter Jennings. Jennings and Robin's
take Americans back through the last hundred years of the country and
covers important happenings that America has experienced. Operation
Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience is part of the Operation
Homecoming initiative. This initiative is from the National Endowment
for the Arts to gather the writing of soldiers and their families who
have been experienced the Afghanistan and Iraqi Wars. This film is
comprised of American Soldiers stories as they fight the battles of
war. The stories that the soldiers have written down are their own
thoughts and emotions to the hostile situation that surrounds them.
Each soldier that is filmed in this compelling documentary has his/her
story transformed into a dramatization; this offers a deeper
examination of their wartime experiences and brings their words to
Operation Homecoming brings to the surface the actual experiences of a soldier and emotional tolls war plays on them. The soldiers write down their experiences for themselves and their families but also unconsciously to America, to let us know what is happening over in their world of war and fighting. War time literature helps illuminate many themes within the 60 minutes of this documentary. The day in the life of a soldier, the emotional and physical effects that war plays on armed forces, that war is not the pretty picture that some have painted it out to be, sometimes you have to do things that you do not always want to do, death and life, all these are themes are represented in this documentary.
Those who are in the film are American soldiers who have gone through the wagging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They sit and tell the camera there stories and why they wrote. They are accompanied by older, established writers like Tim O'Brien and Tobias Wolff, who reflect on their experiences in Vietnam. While the interviews from those who have recently served in war provide a modern perspective, the words of the older writers give a more historical perspective.
The editing in this film is very precise and accurate. It has to be in order to give the viewers a real sense of what the soldiers are saying. While the stories are being narrated pictures and scenes of war are being played, the pictures are put together in order to portray the story. One of the stories is portrayed through a cartoon, some are pictures, and some are real soldiers. The camera that is being used to film is held at eye level, straight on, no more than a few feet away from the interviewee. This gives the viewer a better feeling of closeness to the words the solider is saying. The camera backs away only to get shots of the interviewee's movements, body gestures, or the entire body; when the camera does this it is turned or adjusted at different angles, giving the viewer different perspectives of the interviewee. The lighting used during the interview takes a very natural setting. It isn't to dim or to bright. The frames are broken up into different questions that are being asked, after a seat of questions the last soldier interviewed story is told through narration. Music is used in the film to add to the dramatic stories being told. The music is all instrumental, and gives a deep serious tone. While the soldiers are talking before the camera, music faintly plays in the background to give way to the upcoming suspense of their stories.
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