WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM (2011) – Documentary Retroview

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Where Soldiers Come From begins and ends in a rural Michigan town, but it could be about any American community where youngsters who’re graduating from high school and preparing themselves for adulthood must make decisions about what their next steps should be.

Many who aren’t on the academic path join the National Guard because it offers a $20,000 signing bonus plus future tuition, and gives them four more years during which to ponder what they’ll do with their lives.

Then, they’re sent to war. Physical and emotional battle traumas wrack their bodies and psyches. Those who survive find their lives turned upside down.

From Hancock, Michigan, to Hell and Back

Meet Dom Fredianelli, Cole Smith and Matt Beaudoin from Hancock, a town on Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula. They’re good kids. Wholesome kids. Attractive kids. They’re proud and patriotic Americans, and they’re somewhat naive about the world beyond the Upper Peninsula and the complexities of politics and international affairs.

These lads have been friends since childhood. They’ve gone through school together. They confide in each other, go swimming in the lake, hunt, and play in the snow together. Of the three, Dom is the one who has some long term goals — he’s an accomplished graffiti artist who decorates his town with murals, and would like to study and work at design and painting.

Now, just out of high school and somewhat undecided in their plans for the future, they sign up for the National Guard, go through training and find themselves deployed and clearing landmines in Afghanistan.

Dom, Cole and Matt are the principal characters in Where Soldiers Come From, the feature documentary in which filmmaker Heather Courtney follows them from Hancock through their deployment to Afghanistan and back again.

Courtney beautifully profiles her three leads, using archival footage — family videos, mostly — of them in their daily pre-military lives, footage showing them in battle and intimate on camera interviews with them. Their journey — together and as individuals — from post-adolescence to adulthood is clear — and harrowing.

Able Bodied Kids Disabled By War

When signing up for the National Guard, the lads don’t anticipate actually being deployed to Afghanistan, and they’re not properly prepared for the conditions and challenges they will face there. These guys are not career soldiers. Nobody has warned them explicitly that they will be sent abroad to fight a war in a foreign land where they are complete strangers to local culture and environmental conditions, and where the ammunition the shoot at others and is shot at them is live.

Their experiences in Afghanistan are dangerous, dramatic and extremely traumatic, but no more so than those had by countless other young men who’ve similarly joined the National Guard or signed up for service in other military outfits.

The lads grow up under fire and they come home changed forever. If they were having difficulty deciding what to do with their lives before they joined the National Guard, after their Afghanistan deployment they are further confused — disabled, in fact — by post traumatic stress disorder, by depression, anger, remorse and a sense of futility. It’s heartbreaking to see the change in their personalities and the way they view the future.

Where Soldiers Come From is so moving, so compelling, because it tells the stories of these engaging young men who are trying to find their way to a positive future. But, it also has alarming implications for our society at large. What sort of future do we all face if so many of our young citizens are stepping into their adult responsibilities with the heavy burden of war traumas on their shoulders?

Film Details:

Title: Where Soldiers Come From
Director: Heather Courtney
Theatrical Release Date: September 9, 2011 (limited)
Running Time: 93 mins.
Locations: Michigan and Afghanistan
Language: English
Production Companies: Quincy Hill Films and ITVS
Distribution Company: International Film Circuit
Official Website

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