I spent nearly two years filming them as regular 19 and 20-year-olds before they became active duty soldiers serving in Afghanistan,” Courtney said of her two leading subjects. “I also spent a lot of time with their families, friends and girlfriends. My goal was to get to know them as people rather than soldiers, and by knowing them and their families and (hometown) before they leave, we see how they all change over these four years.
This weekend the South by Southwest music and film festival once again descends on Austin, Texas. When events conclude on March 20th, a select number of new bands and new films will have been given the kind of media boost that can propel a relatively unknown work of art to “best-of” lists by year’s end.
Of the many worthy efforts, we’re are giving particular interest to Where Soldiers Come From, a film directed by Heather Courtney. The documentary tells both a compelling story of friendship and sacrifice, but also narrates on a subject too often left out of discussions of the wars in Iraq and Afganistan: the staggering number of rural Americans, as opposed to their suburban counterparts, who are risking their lives to serve their country.
It wasn’t long after Dominic Fredianelli, a sensitive, artistic high school graduate in a remote town in northern Michigan, signed up for the National Guard that his buddies started following his lead. In exchange for just one weekend of training a month, they would earn a $20,000 signing bonus and much-needed college tuition support. Before he knew it, 10 friends were in the group. They knew there was a chance that they’d be sent to war sometime during their six-year stint, but, as Cole Smith, Dominic’s best friend said, “I wasn’t really doing anything; my buddies had already joined. . . . I figured, ‘Twenty Gs, one weekend a month, let’s do it!’”
Shooting in vérité style, Courtney focuses on three of the friends — Dominic, who takes art classes and paints large murals in the abandoned buildings that belonged to a once-thriving copper mining industry; Cole, the comedian in the group; and Matt Beaudoin (“Bodi”), who has a history of military service in his family and is proud to serve his country. They change from carefree teenagers who spend their days swimming in Lake Superior and drinking at bonfires to soldiers getting hit by homemade bombs in Afghanistan and combat veterans dealing with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The four years Ms. Courtney spent with these young men in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and embedded with their units in Afghanistan will be broadcast later in the year as part of the high-acclaimed POV series
on PBS. We are looking to cover this film in greater detail after the events of SXSW conclude, so please stay tuned. Until then, here is the official trailer for Where Soldiers Come From