Dir. Richard E. Robbins
Premiered February 9, 2007
“You didn’t wake up in the morning and go ‘I’m gonna go bring freedom.’ …your life was ‘I’m gonna have to get into that humvee or that tank and not die.”
–Sgt. John McCary
Americans love the troops. We love them because they are brave, because they believe in what their country stands for, and because we still have fearful memories of a time when they were not looked on so kindly. But during the wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq, “support the troops” became something of an abstraction. For the first time since the Mexican-American War, the US fought years-long campaigns without the aid of conscription, and consequently the wartime experience drifted far from the public mind. Operation Homecoming aims to resolve that divide.
At the beginning of the Iraq War, the National Endowment of the arts launched Operation Homecoming, where writers were sent to military base camps to train soldiers, marines, and airmen in the art of writing. As Operation Homecoming the film demonstrates, the project was a smashing success: all different types of men on all different types of missions wrote poetry, narrative nonfiction, fiction, and even satire about their experiences. Expanding on their writing, director Richard E. Robbins presents furtive dramatizations of their work through staged readings and a variety of visual styles. In between, Robbins interviews the authors themselves as well as notable writers who served in previous wars about their own experiences.
As you might expect, Operation Homecoming is very episodic and somewhat uneven, though not as much as might be expected. Altogether, glory, blood, and politics are absent. The only overt judgment given by interviewees is their own disturbance over the indifference to the war on the home front. Aside from that, though, action is the only concern. As a result, Operation Homecoming has aged far better than other most other war content of the time.
How Did It Do?
Operation Homecoming ran in exactly one theater for exactly one week. It grossed just $6,745, but the real ticket was an Oscar nomination, which it received but didn’t win.
Next Time: The Counterfeiters