Bringing the war home

The problem with making a film about the War in Iraq is getting people to actually watch it, filmmakers Richard Robbins and Tom Yellin say. With so much political debate surrounding the ongoing conflict, it is difficult to ask an audience to understand or sympathize with the human aspect of the war.

In “Operation Homecoming” (Sunday, 10 p.m., PBS), Robbins and Yellin present a strong effort to humanize a war that we are used to seeing through the distant lenses of CNN. The filmmakers accomplish this feat by telling it through the eyes of those who are closest to the conflict: the soldiers.

Through collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, Department of Defense and PBS, Robbins assembled a collection of short pieces of writing ranging from poetry about tanks under assault to a black humor piece about day-to-day life in Iraq. It turns out that while being shot at and shooting back is not much “fun,” one of the more troublesome aspects of deployment is that the food sucks.

It is a much different view than anything else that has come from the war and both of these extremes are presented with a shocking kind of immediacy: this is not something that happened, it is happening.

The stories and poetry that appear in the film are approached in interesting, and sometimes shocking, ways by the film’s voice talents (which include Robert Duvall and John Krasinski of “The Office”). They are illustrated in a variety of media, including an animated segment that was one of the most effective moments of the entire film.

There is a successful attempt in the film to give the writing from the Iraq War a place in the tradition of war writing. Quotes flash across the screen from Hemingway and “Jarhead,” while writers such as Tobias Wolff appear to talk about the nature of writing during war.

“Operation Homecoming” is a shocking film. We see, for perhaps the first time in this war, that the soldiers fighting the battles are just normal people. They have flaws, biases, fear and hate, which all come across during the film’s different segments.

It is a film that really forces the viewer to think about the individuals themselves rather than the political meaning of their actions.

It’s refreshing to see a film go to such efforts to depoliticize the war. Viewing “Operation Homecoming” refreshes one’s sense of war as a human struggle instead of a political talking point or a news story. The film is by no means perfect – there are parts that can seem a little too long, or parts that feel like the director is re-treading the same ground – but it is an honest look at the nature of war writing, and the knowledge that everything written is still happening – right now.

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