Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stunning film: Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq


I caught this simply flooring film 'Alive Day Memories' on The Movie Network last night. An HBO film, it "features" James Gandolfini doing interviews of soldiers who have returned home from the battlefield in less than one piece.

U.S. viewing schedule
Canadian viewing schedule (with clips)

Bearing the terrible scars they will have for life, these young adults share their pain, joy, suffering, naivety, thoughts and feelings on why they were there, and how they are dealing with their injuries.

An non-partisan documentary, this is not at all what one would expect in a film about the war. Gandolfini infamously pronounced some time ago that he thought the way to 'win' the war in Iraq would be to "reinstate the draft, send 500,000 troops and finish it". The film does not choose sides, whether the war is just, or justified. It simply examines the human results on some American kids, and transcends those banal discussions for loftier heights - humanity, intellect, the capacity to live through tremendous adversity.

This film is heart-wrenching, insightful, poignant and truly a must-see. I can't begin to describe the roll-coaster of thoughts and emotions the interviews engender, but a couple of quick examples:

Crystal, a 24-year old from a small town in the American south lost her foot in Iraq. Her reasoning behind joining the military is infallible in her world - the only way to get out of that small town is to marry up, or sign up. Her friends have 'kids, some of them two or three' and her disdain for that life is palpable. At the most emotional point in her story, the timing of which was obviously intentional, she opines tat she has no time for people who tear up and who pity her. The film crew went with her for her first dance on her prosthetic leg, a weird happy moment which she shares with the world.

Another touching point in the film is when one of the vets comes in to sit for an interview and Gandolfini says simply 'My name is Jim' by way of introduction.

I think a lot of times on both coasts we're so cynical about this kind of thing. First of all, I think a lot of people think this whole volunteer army is just people who couldn't make it in other areas of life and joined for the financial reasons of being taken care of, so to speak. And when you talk to these people, it's obvious that that's not true. These are smart kids. They're intelligent, they're articulate.

And when we talk about loyalty to the country--that they joined because they were angry that their country got attacked--I mean these are the kinds of things we don't hear about anymore. You know, everyone says, "the kids today, the kids today." Well these are the kids today. And we need to pay attention to them. They're not just disposable people.

We need to get our heads out of the sand and wake up. These are our kids over there, and they're getting killed for what we don't even know. We should be proud of these kids who are over there risking their lives. And we should take better care of them.

While his comments are kept to a minimum, as are his questions edited from the film, there are numerous shots of him embracing the subjects after the interviews which verges but never quite gets to the point of being cloying or non-genuine expressions of compassion, concern and support on the part of the 'big Hollywood star'.

A beautiful red-head whose picture is featured on the homepage of the film and whose arm and shoulder were amputated wonders if she will ever find a boyfriend, and is overwhelmed by the thought that her future child might not love her, that she could not hold him with both arms.

I don't feel I can do this film justice in my description, it is a terribly moving experience to play witness to these stories, I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like for those involved in the production. If you don't shed any tears when watching this film, check your chest, you either have no heart or you happen to be dead.

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