Heather Courtney has crafted a quality documentary that reveals, intentionally or unintentionally, the dichotomous eventualities of what it now means to serve the United States’ armed forces. Personalizing the experiences of three of her friends from enlistment in the Michigan National Guard to deployment, and on to their return and attempts at reintegration, Courtney’s camera reaffirms the crucial role of friends and family to a soldier’s fortune, for their home country’s processes often fail them.
Of the subjects followed, Dominic “Dom” Fredianelli signed up for the money, while Cole Smith joined to be with his friends, a group of seemingly normal, small-town 20 year-olds otherwise engaged in all the expected shenanigans, expressing themselves over music, beer and the spray-painting of decrepit structures—a far cry from sweeping the sands of Afghanistan for IEDs.
What’s become clear in recent years is that the forces fighting for their country are rarely recruited on the ideals and principles that governed history’s wars, and the enlisted now often simply represent the underprivileged, the socio-economic underclass.
The access granted to Courtney to film the realities of the subjects’ situations is impressive. Refreshingly honest, Where Soldiers Come From is not honed or edited or sculpted beyond form, but fixedly focused on the very real self-doubt and questioning upon which these soldiers dwell (and the drugs they use to suppress their emotions and escape their predicaments). Their doubt and confusion are further impacted by what many see to be a distance between this country’s decision makers and the young men and women on the ground who’ve put their lives at risk to represent them, many dying for the privilege of politics.
Courtney delivers images that reveal the true impact of this pencil-pushing policy making over time, forcing us to identify the people dressed in uniform, to view where exactly it is that these soldiers come from, what their interests otherwise would be, and whether they’re any better off on their return to “normal” life.
Shocking, too, is how little has changed. With footage beginning during George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House, Barack Obama has almost served a full term with deployments continuing apace. Has the value of a young American’s life really been affected by a change in administration? Is the “Hope” that swept the nation still real?
By painting a small town’s portrait, it follows that the documentary could have easily been located in Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee, or any of the other states from which the armed forces are most often cultivated. Multiply these young voices by the thousands and the immediate future for returned soldiers seems no better than the system that’s let down hundreds of thousands of veterans over the decades.
Spectacularly shot and pensively paced, Courtney’s documentary deserves to be watched closely and debated fiercely. By checking in on just these few, hopefully Courtney’s work will help draw attention and aid to the many now suffering from having served their nation.