Several months ago, Yance Ford recommended a series of short films about the Iraq War entitled War Torn for our online short film festival. After a little googling, I realized that the series is already available on the Web, at Channel Four’s excellent Dispatches website. So I put the DVD aside, and moved on to the pile of films that still needed reviewing. Last week, the 5-year anniversary of the Iraq War reminded me of the series and Yance’s praise for it, so I dug out the DVD, and cued it up on my computer.
child featured in 'War Torn'

The daughter of a British soldier sits in her living room.

War Torn: Stories of Separation is a collection of four shorts that tell the stories of mothers and wives whose sons and husbands have gone to fight in Iraq. Filmmaker David Modell artfully combines still photography and audio to create these incredibly moving shorts that detail the impact of the Iraq War on four British families in late 2006. The women talk about life at home, and read aloud the news of the soldiers from a distance, through the letters and text messages they sent home from the battlefield. None of the families are the same after the war enters their lives.

Irene McMillian, who was part of the team behind War Torn, described the biggest challenges the team faced in the making of the films on the Channel Four website.

What we found to be the greatest obstacle to reporting the correspondence was not the transitory nature of it, it was the fear of the imagined consequences for the soldiers if they indulged in candid expression of their thoughts and feelings.

Here everything goes on behind closed doors. Many of the parents I spoke to want the public to understand what life is like for them and those at war and were only too happy to share their letters, only to be shocked by the absolute refusal to cooperate by their children. This left many parents bewildered and unable to understand such a high level of hostility to the idea. Some parents were threatened with no more letters, or a considerable censoring of information. [link]

After watching these films and reading through the site, I found myself thinking about my own father’s service in World War II and his unwillingness to talk about it much with my mother, myself and my sister. He was at war long before our family (and I) existed, and I wondered what he was like before the war — had it changed him, too? — and how my life might have been different if he had served in Vietnam instead, during my childhood. These intimate stories inspired me to reflect on my own family’s experience with war in a way that a lot of the nightly news interviews I’ve seen with soldiers’ families haven’t. The combination of the women’s voices, the use of still photography and the thoughtful pacing invites viewers to put themselves in these women’s places and imagine what would happen if one of our own family members was sent to Iraq.

It’s a tear-filled journey, but an important one, I think. Watch War Torn.*
* WARNING: These videos contain some strong language.

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