The Emmy-award winning documentary “Where Soldiers Come From” will premiere Monday, Nov. 5 in IV Theater 2 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Following the 7 p.m. showing, there will be a Q & A with Dominic Fredianelli, an artist and soldier depicted in the film.
Director Heather Courtney documents a group of childhood friends from Upper Peninsula Michigan who join the National Guard after high school in order to gain support for college tuition and a receive a hefty signing bonus. The film chronicles their transformation from youths to soldiers repeatedly bombed in Afghanistan, and their struggle to readapt to civilian life. Courtney will discuss the process of making the documentary in the McCune Conference Room (HSSB 6020) on Thursday, Nov.,8 at 3 p.m.
The Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC) of the University of California Santa Barbara will be hosting the event. The IHC promotes dialogue between different disciplines, such as the humanities or sciences, by granting money to seminars, lectures and conferences.
This year’s IHC theme, “Fallout: In the Aftermath of War,” discusses the impact of war on society. The series combines psychology, history, art, political science and other disciplines to explore war through film, readings and artwork. About 85 faculty, graduate students, student-veterans and undergraduates attended the inaugural lecture, “War in History and Memory,” where Professor John E. Talbott from the UCSB history department discussed the history of warfare and forms of war stories.
Emily Zinn, Associate Director of the IHC, commented that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have dropped out of the news, making it more important to bring to light veteran issues.
“We decided that in general, so much energy and our tax dollars are going to fund these wars, but there hasn’t been enough dialogue around it,” said Zinn. “Unlike the Vietnam War where you couldn’t ignore it, it’s been easier for our generation to ignore our wars because it’s an all-volunteer army.”
Certainly Heather Courtney’s documentary cannot be ignored, as it brings the war in Afghanistan to the viewer’s backyard, showing how the war has drastically affected average families in irrevocable ways.
Dominic, Cole and Bodi, 19 and 20 year-olds, are the main subjects of the film. They are full of boyish spunk in the beginning of the film, fueled with a desire to do something with their lives and take a break from their small town. The transition from Michigan to training camp occurs when Courtney overlaps shots of the boys diving off a tower into the Great Lakes with a bomb sailing down onto an armored truck.
The fun and games of training dissolves when it is announced that they are to be deployed. Suddenly, the boys are faced with the reality of their situation.
“We’ve talk about what it’s going to be like to leave, what it’s going to be like to come back,” said Fredianelli. “We don’t really talk about what if one of us gets shot, who’s going to pick him up.” He shook his head. “Crazy.”
The boys are deployed to Base Salerno in Afghanistan, where they drive armored cars, sweeping for Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) before other troops go in behind them. Their excitement transforms to bitterness and confusion as the thrill of seeking out IEDs fades.
“What of the point of this?” asks Fredianelli. “Who are we fighting for?”
Bodi wonders if it will end because every time they locate an IED, there is another waiting to almost kill them around the corner.
They drink Nyquil to sleep at night, lose weight and suffer from massive headaches and concussions caused by their trucks getting blown up. Eventually, Bodi is permanently grounded because he has suffered from too many concussions.
The beauty of the film is in its direct attitude. Instead of providing any voiceover commentary, Courtney lets the soldiers and their loved ones speak for themselves. One of the most heart-aching moments of the film occurs when Cole’s father discusses the absence of his son.
“Every time the phone rings, you wonder if it’s him calling or…” he says before he grows silent. This silence speaks loudly of the terror of receiving a notification that his son is dead.
By the end of the film, it becomes clear that the war is not quite over for the young men as they transition back to their civilian lives, reconnecting with loved ones and returning to school.
“I never really hated anyone until I joined the Army,” says Bodi. “I think I’m stuck here [Afghanistan]. My soul is trapped in this shit box place of a country.”
Above all, they worry about suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, TBI occurs when the head sustains a heavy blow that causes trauma to the brain. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, fatigue and behavioral or mood changes. All of the boys in Where Soldiers Come From complain of these symptoms. Worse yet, they worry that there is no way to reverse the effects of TBI and they have no idea when their brains will simply shut down as a result of the trauma.
According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, United States Forces have reported 253,330 cases of TBI since 2000. Additionally, TBI is often coupled with combat stress, so it is difficult to distinguish post-traumatic stress disorder from TBI.
However, the men from Where Soldiers Come From appear to slowly move on. While Bodi begins to see a psychiatrist to talk through his bitterness from the war, Cole goes back to school and Dominic pursues his interests in mural art.
Dominic Fredianelli will work with UCSB art students to express his and other veteran-students’ experiences in war from Nov. 3-6 in the UCSB Art Department Sculpture Yard. The finished product, a mural, will be installed in the IHC Office before finding a permanent home on campus, according to Emily Zinn.
More information for the IHC series “Fallout: In the Aftermath of War,” including future events, can be found at http://www.ihc.ucsb.edu/series/fallout/.