Seeing is Believing

Documenting Operation Homecoming on Film

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Two male troops writing in their notebooks at an Operation Homecoming workshop

Troops from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces participated in Operation Homecoming. Photo: The Boeing Company.

Lawrence Bridges's first reaction to submitting a proposal for a documentary about the NEA's Operation Homecoming initiative was fear. "I had to face the reality of the journey I was going to take," says Bridges, president of Red Car, a Los Angeles-based film company. "Was I willing to undergo the experience of working with these war stories? Would I be able to relate?"

Ultimately, Bridges applied for the project, deciding that it was necessary "so that other people can experience this very human condition of war." The in-progress film focuses on the historical, literary, and, most significantly, human aspects of Operation Homecoming. "There's a lot of news coverage and political reporting on the war, but there's very little envisaging of the people who are actually there," says Bridges. "I want to show that these troops are us, everyday Americans."

This is not Red Car's first experience with documenting an NEA initiative. In 2004, Bridges helmed Why Shakespeare?, a short film showcasing the Shakespeare in American Communities program and how involvement with Shakespeare and live theater could positively change the lives of young people. Why Shakespeare? features a roster of celebrities -- Tom Hanks, Julie Taymor,Michael York -- and young people reciting Shakespeare and reflecting on their experience with the Bard.

Since May, Bridges has proven that he's more than up to the challenge of documenting another historic project, working with his crew to capture NEA Chairman Dana Gioia and some of the program's workshop leaders -- including writers Marilyn Nelson and Andrew Carroll -- in candid discussions of their experience with the project and with literature. Bridges even has lined up actors such as Kevin Costner to recite passages from the anthology on camera.

Most significant, the filmmaker has captured the voices of the troops themselves -- reading the work they have contributed to the anthology and reflecting on their experiences as soldiers and writers. These interviews especially move Bridges, who recounts that nearly all of the interviewed military personnel were overcome with emotion when filming first started. "These troops were giving me permission to enter the most private parts of their hearts," says Bridges. "It's not the kind of opportunity you'd have other than in this context."

Bridges expects that the completed film, which will be used on military bases for future writing workshops, will be available by the end of the year. He hopes that the experience of the film, ultimately, will be one of connection. "I think this is a healing film -- people will understand their own humanity."