Monday, December 30, 2013

"Where Soldiers Come From" is a riveting documentary of the deployment of three friends in a Michigan National Guard unit

Where Soldiers Come From”, by Heather Courtney (2011) for ITVS and PBS POV, traces the lives of three boyhood friends from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when they join the and ordnance unit of the Michigan National Guard (at least partly for income) and get deployed in Afghanistan removing IED’s in what has suddenly become, as Bob Woodruff describes it, “Obama’s War”.
The film, sponsored by Sundance, is striking in the range of its cinematography.  I don’t know how the filmmakers were able to follow the soldiers so carefully on missions in Afghanistan, interacting with villagers and finding mines (which are more than “roadside attractions”).  The beauty of the country comes through, as in one shot there are two ranges of mountains at varied depths, the second a snow-capped ridge out of a Tolkien movie.  In contrast is the scenery around the grimy working class towns in Upper Michigan, the pine ridges, and the seascapes along Lake Superior, with a couple if extraterrestrial sunsets, particularly around an old lighthouse that I remember seeing in a May 1992 visit to the area. Some of the local photography is in razor black and white. 
Of the three chums, Dominic Fredianelli is the most charismatic and notable, at least at first. Dom has become a graffiti artist, painting murals on walls around town.  The other two men are Cole Smith and Matt Beaudoin (or “Bodi”).  They feel better about being deployed together because they can watch each other’s backs.  The clapboard living quarters in Afghanistan are not that bad.  They have TV and high-speed Internet and can talk to family back home by Skype (even on the MacIntosh).  The road trips, looking for bombs to detonate, are harrowing.  One time, they run over a device and the Humvee is toppled. Dom is evacuated and allowed some medical leave, but does not seem to have any visible injury.  Later, we learn that all three men are concerned about concussion exposure, the other two men more than Dom eventually.  The effect on the brain of the explosions is comparable to twenty years of pro football. 

At one point, Dom finds a device and reports it to military police.  Soon, the father in an Afghan village who planted it is arrested and put in prison. Dom says that the man probably planted the device because a Taliban soldier threatened his family and offered money.  

At the end, the men come back, more irritable and changed. Dom starts to go to college at age 22.

Is the film a viewpoint on the way our young people (and older adults) share the risk of defending the country in a volunteer Army, given the economic pressures to join? I know the issue from the experience of being drafted but after getting my M.A. in Math, when I could “get out” of deployment to Vietnam.

In the script, one of the soldiers mentions the "Zeitgeist" movies (March 2, 2013), in relation to the control of the world by the military-industrial complex. 
 The POV Q&A for the film is here.

The distributor is “International Film Circuit”.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of lake in Porcupine Mountains 

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