MY OWN WAR
Review by Mark Schwab
When war veteran Lon Hodges - the main subject of Director Stacey Stone and Producer Diane Mellen's devastating documentary MY OWN WAR - says that he rather be dealing with cancer than with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it shook me to my core. Mainly because I absolutely believed him. He wasn't saying it for effect. Lon was undoubtedly and genuinely suffering.
I had maybe seen one other documentary on the effects of PTSD and it kind of says something that I can't remember it. Stone and Mellen's take on this subject should stick with you as they put the people struggling with this front and center.
We've all heard the awful statistics on veterans committing suicide in record rates and this doc makes a very convincing case of making clear why this is so. The symptoms and effects of PTSD are crippling; panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares, claustrophobia, social anxiety...and much more.
There are many people we meet, veterans across the timeline of wars...World War 2, Vietnam, Desert Storm...all of them linked by the the wars waging in their minds. It is a desperate battle where all too often they feel the have to fight alone.
MY OWN WAR
The documentary team of Stacey Stone and Diane Mellen first came to my attention with their wonderful short documentary THE MAN BEHIND 55,000 DRESSES. They brought humanity and charm to that film and are now back again with two new docs which are very different in subject but not in skill. With their two new films, MY OWN WAR and its companion short film GANDER, Stone and Mellen are building a fine reputation as filmmakers who engender trust and truth in their subjects and audiences.
Most of the film is made up of head shot interviews which can usually grind a documentary to a halt but not here. Usually when a documentary takes on a serious subject, it relies on visual evidence to make its points most effectively while the head shot interviews provide context to that visual evidence. Wisely, the filmmakers understood here that the interviews with the veterans are in itself the needed visual evidence. Watching these brave people tell their stories is heartbreaking and clearly difficult for them at times to express on camera. The effects of their PTSD is there for all to see when they shut their eyes and stammer for answers.
By making this personal and less psychological, MY OWN WAR also shows the effects on the spouses and the long road of therapy and counseling to create functional lives. Although the film does provide a ray of hope at the end, it is also saddening and anger-inducing at what these brave men and women are going through. But maybe that is exactly the point - and it stabs your heart.
Review by Mark Schwab
A sort-of companion piece to the above PTSD documentary, GANDER focuses on Lon Hodges' service dog named after the title. We follow Gander's life from being left in a kill shelter to being an American Humane Hero Dog Award winner.
Again, filmmaking team Stacey Stone and Diane Mellen make sure to humanize the tale proving that Gander makes a significant impression on everyone who gets to pet his shaggy head. Service dogs bring a level of safety, unconditional love and, most critically, measurable health benefits that are impossible to ignore and watching Gander work his canine magic on the infirm is truly inspiring and informative.
I do think that GANDER as a "stand-alone" doc does go on a bit too long at 27 minutes as certain themes start to repeat but when watched right after MY OWN WAR, it takes on a different (and more powerful) patina. It adds to certain perspectives hinted at in the PTSD documentary regarding their treatment and how deeply Lon has bonded with him. The previous documentary groundwork makes this film resonate a bit brighter.
I'm glad I watched GANDER in this exact way and I hope you will too. It did bring some moisture to my eyes but I was smiling too. No matter how you end up seeing GANDER, you'll be convinced that this is one terrific service dog doing wonderful work for his fellow humans.