In preparation for the article The Docs of War (January/February 2006), I interviewed several filmmakers about their experiences. Here are some excerpts from my email correspondence with Patricia Foulkrod, producer/director of The Ground Truth, one of the most powerful documentaries I've seen this year. -- LU
Leif Utne: What inspired you to make The Ground Truth in the first place?
Patricia Foulkrod: I was inspired to make this film because after we invaded Iraq I found in Jim Hightower's newsletter, Mark Benjamin's articles for UPS, etc. that there were many, many more wounded than we were hearing about - the number was around 18,000-20,000 by December which was only 9 months into the war. So I made a half hour film before the 2004 election called The Ground Truth: The Human Cost of War and it was to show people what the soldiers themselves thought of the war and who and how there were so many injuries.
However, after interviewing a lot of soldiers, I always felt I saw something behind their eyes that was unspoken -- like a shattered and broken heart -- and I knew what I wanted to keep exploring was the effects of killing -- what I call The Consciousness of Killing. Why do we never talk about killing in war? So I shifted my focus and started asking soldiers about killing.
LU: What was the most surprising event or aspect of making the film?
PF: The most surprising aspect to me is twofold -- I noticed that even those who killed in self-defense and who knew in their minds that it was because of the circumstances -- they're in a war -- still they seem to feel haunted and guilty and shameful because of what they had done - even though it might have saved their own life. The military teaches you to be responsible and these guys take it all on themselves regardless of orders or circumstances. I can't say I know this was true in every case, but the responsibility that soldiers feel personally for any life that they may take in war is a HUGE burden that is placed on them - FOREVER -- long after we are now shaking hands with the enemy -- and this torment is there always there regardless of whether or not they signed up for the military. The military and our community at home does very little to help these guys live with these feelings because we don't want to come out of the denial that they kill.
I was also surprised and saddened to see that all the money we spend to train these soldiers, there is a part of them that the military can not harden, and it is that part that comes home and has trouble and is overwhelmed and isolated. So it is as though the part that the military can't use for its own purposes is then either ignored or thrown away -- and seen almost as a threat because that is the part that cares about human life. This long-term effect of killing in war leads me to feel it should be a federal crime of the highest offense, if the government sends one to war, and do not take care of their mental health when they come home.
LU: Now that the film is finished, where are you at with it? Festival circuit? What are your plans/dates for theatrical or broadcast runs, and DVD release? What about grassroots distribution -- i.e. house parties, schools, etc.?
PF: We are waiting to hear from Sundance. [After this interview, the film was accepted to the Sundance film festival. -- LU] The film is being presented to European television as we speak. I hope to launch a national grassroots campaign by the end of the year (2005). Much like the MoveOn model, I would like to have house gatherings and use the film as a way of getting people to talk about what we do when we deploy people to a war and make us all responsible. I think it is a lack of willingness on the part of Congress and ourselves to admit that we are capable of sending people off to kill in our name. I also realized that like many, I was raised on the belief that when American goes to war it is because we are the good guys and we have to go and save or protect the little guy from the bad guys, and we are not comfortable admitting that we are often, in fact, the bad guys.
LU: Is there any news to update us on -- good or bad -- about any of the people in the film since you finished shooting?
PF: Today, almost every single soldier in my movie is having a difficult time in their marriage or relationship. Most have either broken up or are struggling to hold on. Several are in a PTSD group and finding that regardless of the amount of time since coming home, they are struggling with PTSD episodes -- particularly with their anger -- which is hindering their ability to deal with work, people and family. I notice that as time goes on, many of the guys are having a harder and not easier time. One soldier's buddy who was with him at the time of his injury in combat, is living on the edge and can not support his wife or his baby. Only two of those featured in the film seem to have moved on or are getting better. And getting media attention or working on issues to do with the war seems to be helpful in the short term, but in some ways keeps them in denial about their own pain.
LU: What's next for you?
PF: I am developing another film on the families who have lost their soldier to suicide -- how they are dealing with the loss, lack of support and recognition from the military, and why we allow this to happen and keep these soldiers hidden as invisible causalities. I also started a film about love and marriage around the world and I am thinking of picking it back up again and finishing it when and if this war gives me a break.