Over the next couple of weeks, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work will be represented in the DocuWeekTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, August 18-24. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films--the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Patricia Foulkrod,
director/producer, of The Ground Truth.
Synopsis: Hailed by Sundance filmgoers as "powerful" and "quietly
unflinching," Patricia Foulkrod's searing documentary feature includes exclusive footage that will stun audiences. The filmmaker's subjects are patriotic young Americans, articulating their stories on-camera--stories that must be heard.
IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?
Patricia Foulkrod: I worked for WNET/Thirteen in New York for five years in news and public affairs, but spent several more years traveling and producing industrial films for a small production company. In 1984, I decided to make a film about what happens to children when their mothers go to prison. I was introduced to this issue by Jean Harris, who was serving time in Bedford Hills Prison in New York. It was my first documentary, and I made it in stages over the next five years. The day Jean finally agreed to be interviewed about her work with children at Bedford, I had spent the morning interviewing other inmates who were mothers, and I burned through film. I was sitting in prison with only three 400 ft. rolls of film and Jean Harris. She proved to be one of the strongest but shortest interviews of the film. It took five years and mostly my own money, despite the fact that I received a small grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a great finishing grant from Women in Film and CFI Laboratories. They're Doing My Time was developed into a CBS movie of the week, and has been used by more than one lawyer to defend his client, who is a mother.
IDA: What inspired you to make The Ground Truth?
PF: I was inspired to make The Ground Truth by the number of casualties and issues facing our soldiers from the onset of the Iraq Invasion. I kept reading and hearing about them, but never saw much reported by mainstream news or revealed to us by the government. Even today, what keeps me going is the knowledge that there have now been over 165,000 people who have reported to the Veterans Administration with medical concerns from the Iraq War, yet the Department of Defense numbers for officially wounded hover around 18,000. Most people do not realize or want to admit that these low numbers are impossible. [Approximately] 1.3 million Americans have already served in Iraq. And only 18,000 are hurt. This is a very weird war if that is true.
IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?
PF: Obstacles/challenges? Money...never having been in a war...wanting to be fair and honest and relate soldiers' stories, but always chasing the reality that what we are engaged in is always ahead of me...the very thing I am trying to draw a picture of keeps changing faster than I can finish my edit and get it out to an audience. I think the biggest challenge was just trying to organize all the footage and war material without a researcher or a full-time producer. And the depression and state of mind that I experienced while I was making it, which lasted for most of two years.
IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?
PF: I started out wanting to show how many wounded there really were, and then in post I realized I wanted to show the invisible wounds even more than the physical. I heard and saw a loneliness and an isolation for many soldiers when they come home--the safe world of home that can be just as difficult as combat, for many. And I wanted to show Americans what happens to some people when they are trained and paid to go kill people for whatever the cause--in our name. I became more focused on asking Americans to take responsibility for those who get hurt and depressed and die, than in just showing the wounds and expecting people to care. And as time went on, I moved away from the military families and experts I had interviewed and focused more and more on a few soldiers whose stories I felt told the deeper story of what it means to take life and then have to live with it. The suicides that are occurring among our soldiers in and out of Iraq became very important to me.
IDA: As you've screened The Ground Truth--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?
PF: Audiences at Sundance were crying at our Q&A to the point where they could not ask their questions or would start crying in the middle of the exchange. The biggest surprise has been to see how very few people in the military have a problem with the critical view that the film takes towards this administration and the way the VA is forced to act due to lack of funds. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have seen the film and often feel it is too difficult for them to watch, and it triggers a lot of feelings and upset. However, they always say to me, "But we want everyone in America to see it."
IDA: In general, what docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?
PF: Seeing Red, Hearts and Minds, Heart of Darkness...so many.
To view the entire Docuweek program, visit http://documentary.org/programs/index_06.php.
To download and view the Docuweek schedule, visit http://documentary.org/src/DW/DocuWeek_Schedule.pdf.
To purchase tickets to Docuweek, visit www.ArcLightcinemas.com.