This review is based on my thoughts and feelings, the feedback I heard from people in my home the first night and the almost hour of questions and answers we had the 2nd night at the University at Buffalo.
Well it has taken me a week to come up with the thoughts and words to describe the Scott Kesterson/David Leeson film, At War. I watched it with Scott, my family (to include my son who just got back from Afghanistan himself), and a couple of members of my ETT team in my house last Sunday night. On Monday night this website, www.bouhammer.com along with the University at Buffalo’s Department of Media Study sponsored a screening of the movie in their private theatre.
The first night was an emotional roller coaster as I watched the 113 minutes of the movie. I laughed, I cried, and I was was quickly taken back to being in Afghanistan again. I forgot how long I had been sitting there and as far as I knew I could have been watching it for 4 hours or just under the 2 hours that the movie lasts. After the movie, my family, friends and Scott sat there talking about it, what it meant to us and how it made us feel.
One of the people there was a civilian who had never really been around the military and I asked her what it made her feel like. I asked guys that were with me in Afghanistan, I asked my son and of course I asked my wife. The reason I asked so many people was because I was really confused on how to describe this movie. The descriptive words that came to mind were ones like; raw, realistic, and refined to name a few.
But how do I take those and use them in one descriptive sentence or a even paragraph? To me this was not a typical documentary. To me it was half reality TV and half documentary. Scott educated me that there is a descriptive word for this type of filming, it is called cinema-verite. There are no voice-overs, no narration, or anything like that to steer you along a specified path. In contrast, it takes you into the life of a soldier and seeing war through a soldier’s eyes. Not just one soldier, but many soldiers from several different countries. The sounds and sights are typically only those that the soldier experiences on the battlefield. The path that the viewer takes is up to the viewer and I think the they are as unique as each person who watches this film.
There are about a half-dozen main characters that are followed through the film and Scott/David do a great job in taking you back and forth between them. These main characters will give you a glimpse of what it is like to be embedded with indigenous forces of a 3rd world country. You observe direct action fighting, the attempted motivation of Afghan Army forces, teaching them ethics on the battlefield and what an American who is responsible for leading Afghan forces will do in order to take care of his (Afghan) soldiers.
The music comes from all indie bands and the selection is phenomenal as it lures you into the movie even deeper than the live-action sounds. There are moments that seem like the music was written for the film and it is hard to believe that when these songs were written and recorded the film was not even made yet.
The beauty of the film is not just the great high-definition footage, but the editing is just as much a piece of this film as is the actual footage. The music, as I mentioned before, along with the profound statements and comments inserted into key sections of the film all make up the entire experience. The film will provoke questions, thoughts, and opinions as you watch it and well after you are done watching it.
There are couple of scenes that really stand out in my mind as I look back and surprisingly none of them deal with combat itself. There is a lot of raw combat footage, but the two scenes that stand out the most by virtue of the message they convey are the ‘orchard scene‘ and the ‘death scene‘.
I don’t think there was a dry eye in the UB theater on Monday night during the ‘death scene‘ as 30 people sat there watching in high-definition sight and sound. This scene shows how Canadians, Afghans and Americans all deal with how they render honors to their fallen comrades. If you are curious as to what a ramp ceremony looks like and how our country or our allies render honors to their fallen bretheren, then this is the film to watch. You will not only feel sad for the loss of life, but you will feel immense pride in our armies as we all render honors for any of the fallen coalition members.
Everyone needs to see this film. From the high-school kid who is trying to understand the world we live in today and where this country is heading all the way to President Obama himself. I think before he, CJCS Mullen, or SecDef Gates make any decisions on what to do in Afghanistan, they need to see this film. If you are about to deploy to Afghanistan, you need to see this film. If you have a family member or friend in Afghanistan and you want to understand what they are going through, then you need to see this film. If you care about your country, then you need to see this film.
Check out www.atwarfilm.com to see more. Also, if you are on Facebook, there is a group for fans of At War that is meant to share information and keep people updated on screenings, release locations and dates as they become available. The link to the Facebook group is http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=logo#/group.php?gid=54041668917