The War Tapes: An Honest Look at Military Life


A few days ago, Homefront Six listed some movies that she can't watch. One film on that list was "The War Tapes."

I had the pleasure of seeing The War Tapes earlier this year. I was somewhat uneasy about viewing the film because my husband was deployed at the time. I'm a realist, but some reality I would rather imagine and not actually see. However, I left the theater glad that I had watched this film, and looking forward to seeing it again.

Military spouses are often misrepresented in television and movie portrayals. Sometimes you see the weak wife who is unable to cope, sometimes you see the wife who seeks sanctuary from her loneliness by jumping in the arms of another man, and sometimes the military wife is simply cast in the light which best represents the filmmaker's political position. Rarely, have I seen a realistic portrayal of military girlfriends/wives.

The War Tapes features three ladies; a mother, a girlfriend and a wife. These women are real, and so is the footage of their lives during deployment.

Below is my review of The War Tapes, published on April 30, 2006.

Blogging has revolutionized the way that information is now being disseminated. Deborah Scranton has ramped the idea of citizen journalism up a few notches with her film, The War Tapes. Rather than embed with a unit, Deborah went outside the box and came up with the idea of supplying soldiers with video cameras, a revolutionary concept. Soldiers from a New Hampshire National Guard Unit agreed to work with Deborah. During their deployment to Iraq, they captured the war in all its glory, and all its horror. What you see is what you get and one can hardly refute raw footage from the front lines, something which lends great legitimacy to this film.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend the premiere of The War Tapes at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

The War Tapes is a film about war, soldiers and the women they left behind when they deployed to Fallujah -- once the armpit of hell -- in 2004. The viewer follows three soldiers from their departure for Iraq to their return home, and beyond. There's been some political bantering about this film. This is NOT a political film.  The main characters in this film; Sgt. Steve Pink, Specialist Mike Moriarty and Sgt. Zack Bazzi do not shy away from their political views. But for the most part, to its credit, the film leaves the political world far behind.

This is a war movie, so it goes without saying that there are some gruesome scenes. Gruesome, yes. Gratuitous, no. I would rather not have seen some of what I saw, but I understand that this is reality. Blood and guts belong in this film, more than most.

While the men are in Fallujah, the stories of the women in their lives unfold in front of the camera. Featured are Lindsey (girlfriend of Steve Pink), Randi (wife of Mike Moriarty) and Sana (mother of Zack Bazzi).  These women are beautiful, warm and funny. They are a powerful reminder of the other casualties of war. Sana will tear your heart in two. She said for sixteen months her head was filled with Iraq. "Go to bed - Iraq, wake up - Iraq".  Mothers everywhere will connect on an emotional level with Sana. Deborah Scranton deserves huge kudos for incorporating the stories of those left behind into this film. Military girlfriends/boyfriends, spouses and parents will certainly bond with, and relate to, these three women.

After Mike returns home, Randi tells us that her husband is frustrated and wants her to "understand what he's been through." Randi says she can't, she'll "never understand", but adds that she would like Mike to understand what she went through back home. While Randi is right, none of us will ever completely understand what the other has endured, I think this film goes a long way in helping us to understand as much as we can, and that's a valuable gift to military families. The War Tapes takes us to the front lines. It's a film everyone should see, especially military members and their families.

After the premiere, the cast and crew assembled on stage for a Q&A session.

One woman, I believe she said she was from Rutgers, said that Marines recently had some sort of recruiting drive, though she seemed a bit confused as to what Marines do. I won't expand, but suffice it to say that I believe she was looking for an answer that she didn't get when she asked Steve, Mike and Zack what they would advise young kids who might be thinking about joining the military.

Mike Moriarty said that America didn't become the great country that she is without citizens serving in the Armed Forces. He would recommend service, but cautioned that anyone thinking about joining should "do their homework." Mike's National Guard contract will expire later this year. He doesn't plan to reenlist. Mike, who [re-enlisted] after seeing the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center, says he's glad he went to Iraq, but now he's "done his part." I think he's right.

Steve Pink basically expressed the same sentiments, and talked for a moment about the "great benefits" in joining.

Zack Bazzi was born in Lebanon. His mother never understood his desire to be a soldier, and at one point said that she felt the Army had become "his family." Zack said joining the military was one of the best things he's ever done and added that "soldiers are cooler than most civilians, and chicks dig soldiers." I met Zack at the after-party and I can assure you that "chicks" will be the least of his worries. 

When you see this film, you will laugh outloud. You will cry. You will wince and you will recoil. But in the end, you will be very proud of the men and women who are putting their lives on the line in this long and difficult War on Terror. This film, more than anything I've ever seen or read, humanizes our troops. These soldiers are hysterically funny, articulate, intelligent, compassionate and loyal to their mission and their brothers-in-arms. Some may not agree with our premise for being in Iraq, but that doesn't stop them from doing their jobs with great integrity and courage.

I'm not a film-maker, but last night over dinner I asked myself, "is there anything I would change about the film?" After much thought, the answer was a resounding no. I can't think of anything that wasn't just right. Deborah and her production team have outdone themselves, and the cast of characters in this film renewed my pride in the American Soldier. I saw the faces of Steve, Mike and Zack, but I know that those three faces represent hundreds of thousands of men and women who are serving our country. Many stereotypes are shattered thanks to The War Tapes.

As I mentioned at the top, this is not a political film. Sadly, I think that's where it may meet trouble. Hollywood and other media outlets strive to politicize this war, and it's difficult to do that with The War Tapes. Ironically, its beauty may be its worst enemy. Remember how Saving Private Ryan was snubbed by the Hollywood elite? But, you and I can make a difference. GO SEE THIS FILM, and tell everyone you know about it. Family Support Groups - this is a perfect film to see as a group. I will see this film again when it opens in my area. When my husband returns from deployment, I'll see it yet again, with him. I strongly believe that The War Tapes is not only entertaining, but educational as well. This is not Hollywood's version of war - this IS war. Raw, unedited, painful and truthful.

The War Tapes is dedicated to the men of Charlie Company, 3/172nd Mountain Infantry, AND to the troops who have served, or are serving, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Last night, I told Deborah that she has a hit on her hands. I believe that's true - at least it should be. Grassroots efforts can move mountains. Let's make sure that we as a military community help promote this film. This is our story. This is our life.

I would not have liked this film nearly as much as I did if the homefront had not been represented. By including the perspective of the mother, the wife and the girlfriend, The War Tapes gives us a panoramic view of what it's like to live through a deployment.

Check to see if The War Tapes is playing near you, and if so, when you're comfortable, go see it. We owe it to ourselves to promote projects which give military life a fair shake, and this one certainly does.

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