Friday, June 13, 2008

Year At Danger

Seen last night as an encore at the Austin Film Society festival.

"For operations in Iraq, the National Guard mobilized teachers, police officers, bankers, mechanics… and one filmmaker.

Nine days after getting married, Steve Metze found out he was being deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Metze, a West Point graduate, Desert Storm veteran, and documentary filmmaker, decided to pack a camera and document his year in Iraq.

Metze gets closer to his subjects than even the most embedded reporter, and is able to use his eye for filmmaking to bring back more than simple home movies. The resulting film is an objective look at the lives of National Guard soldiers. There are no politics on the front line, only personalities and Metze captures all of them in a film that combines humor with the, often grim, realities of a war-torn country and the brave soldiers who live there.

Year at Danger is a soldier’s story, told by the soldier. No bias, no headlines, just the day-to-day reality of life in Iraq."

Steven Metze, the filmmaker/National Guard member (I forgot his rank I'll post that when he/Steve emails me back) who documented his stay in Iraq is a student of my friend Chris, an English professor who teaches all manner of writing. She had mentioned him to me before as I have been wanting to set up a (support) retreat for Veterans with combat-related PTSD. She figured he'd be a great source for me and after seeing his documentary, I feel I've glimpsed a bit of what that 'resource' contains of.

My friend Chris. She went to Bosnia in the '90s to teach an English class to American military through the University of Maryland. She had to go through basic training like everyone else. Now, some 15yrs (plus) later, this Fall, she'll be doing the same but going to Afghanistan next. She's preparing for two classes; "writing a war memoir" and a "class on the Afghan culture". She's awesome. I'm counting on her doing workshops for veterans when she returns. Safely! In one piece!

This documentary was truly excellent (and have I ever mentioned my screenwriting workshops and documentary film making workshop background..I've seen PLENTY of documentaries)as it was both personal, poignant, heartbreaking and hilarious all in one but not necessarily all at once. The people who spoke on camera became so familiar that this morning I found myself wondering whatever happened to some of them. For me, it had moments of recognition. Having lived in Saudi Arabia for a few years (back in the 90s), I could relate to; searing temperatures (enigma,remember the bangladeshi street sweeper story??) in this case waaay over 50C/122F; an Iraqi teenager harking somewhat off-camera (ah the sounds and smells of another country), so recognizable when I lived in Saudi (better out then in I say); and the settting. Desert, sandy and square white houses/buildings, kinda desolate looking. Of course in Saudi there were the posh areas with lots of vegetation (definitely not native plants) and some houses coloured pink.

I digress. In the trailer you'll see Zachary Scott-Singley who's an Arabic translator, coopted by the military. As Steve documents his stay by way of film making, Zachary documents his experiences by way of blogging. Trying and finding him online today I realized I once visited him a year or so again. Here is the actual post that you see him reading a snippet of in the trailer excerpt: Lesson Learned.

Zachary Scott-Singley

Then there are the regulars who's names I totally do not remember (or their ranks!) but I can 'see' their faces. I remember the chaplain who, inspite of his smiling and joking, is obviously deeply affected by all what he has witnessed. (traveling 20 days out of the 30 to the different F.O.B.'s (forward operating base)) At one point, he gets called back to the States. I really wonder how he is now too. A future candidate for my hopefully future retreat perhaps?
I got definitely pulled into everyone's story. But I also realized, that there are many many paralel stories to theirs going on right now in Iraq. At least it won't be at FOB Danger.

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