Friday, September 9, 2011

Heather Courtney's unusual documentary WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM tracks our boys pre-, during and post-Afghanistan

Yet another in the documentary derby of films about America's current and colossal wartime misadven-tures that will, like all the other exam-ples, be little seen theatrically but may someday stand as an enduring record of the hubris and stupidity of our leaders and the sheep/lemming-like quality of our citizens, WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM is actually one of the finer examples of the breed.  Though it might better be titled "Where Some Soldiers Come From," as its characters -- white-bread all, no Blacks nor Latinos -- inhabit Michigan's bleak Upper Peninsula (see shot at bottom of this post), the film works as a cogent and near-complete record of a handful of friends who enlist, serve and return home changed. Probably not for the better.

The filmmaker, Heather Courtney (at right), takes no particular political stance, yet like a watchful host, she's there to observe and record. And so politics, economics, sociology and psychology abound -- without ever being singled out or made more of than is necessary to the various situations and conversations at hand. And by focusing on a group of friends whom we view before, during and after this bout of "war," Ms Courtney comes closest to making her documentary as rich in character, event and resolution as are most narrative movies.

The three main young men on whom she focuses are would-be artist and pretty much the ringleader Dom (above) and his friends Cole (the pretty boy/party boy, below) and Bodi (the nerdiest of the three, but with his own brand of charm and grace, further below). These are good guys, all, and worth spending time with.

There is no way to discuss this film properly, even a little, without giving away certain spoilers. So I will say that, of all America-at-war documentaries over the past decade, this one is in many ways the lightest and easiest to take in. Where Soldiers Come From is about as positive a story to come of Iraq or Afghanistan as I have seen because the finality of death does not hit our three boys.

There are suspenseful moments while "in country" (Ms Courtney evidently went with them; it would be interesting learn how all that was arranged) and, yes, they come back somewhat traumatized. But compared to much that we have already seen, these guys were lucky. And their families are lucky to have them back safely.

We meet and spend time with those families (two moms are above) and overhear snippets of conversation that may make you cringe (how the election of Obama is going to change things), and learn that our guys do suffer at least somewhat from Traumatic Brain Injury due to the many explosions they've been near during their tour of duty.

They've become, each in his own way, more cynical and angry, too, about America's "mission" overseas and their part in it. So, as "happy" an ending as the movie provides, in retrospect, this is anything but. Why? Because this is now clearly the best America can offer its youth. Just as this is the best economy, employment and health care system it can offers its adults. (We see and hear bits about the latter from the families on view.)

I would think that any viewer who has kept even marginally "up" with the news of late (no, not Casey Anthony or the weather) will not be able to finish Ms Courtney's film without feeling renewed anger from a swift punch to the gut. That punch is understated, certainly, but her film is no less provocative for it.

Where Soldiers Come From (91 minutes) opens today in New York City at the Village East Cinema. Click here to see all the upcoming playdates, cities and theaters. And as the film was funded partially by POV and Sundance, I would hope we will eventually see it on public television and cable stations, too -- where it will find a much larger audience than it will inevitably have done in theaters.

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