Production brings stories of Afghanistan to home
Submitted I AM WAR, which offers a personal look at war through the eyes of five men and women who served with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan including former platoon leader Captain Ashley Collette, now a military social worker from Nova Scotia. The show airs tonight (Friday) at 9 p.m. on History.
Through the observance of Remembrance Day it is sometimes easy to forget that there are still men and women of Canada’s Armed Forces overseas fighting, training, protecting in conflicts that are light years away from what anyone would consider conventional warfare.
An original one-hour documentary special aims to bring those stories to the forefront. I AM WAR, is produced and directed by Wayne Abbott of Northern Sky Entertainment is being shown on History tonight (Friday) at 9 p.m.
The documentary offers a personal look at war through the eyes of five men and women who served with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. These testimonials give a unique view of the heroes and horrors of war and the emotional scars that never seem to heal.
“The film is made up of five perspectives, I really wanted something that showed the human side of war. I didn’t really care about all of the details and the strategies and all that, the political side of Afghanistan,” said Abbott. “I just wanted to look at the pure human side of it. What the soldiers, there are just three soldiers, we have a nurse and an interpreter. And that is why it is called I Am War, it is just personal accounts, very detailed, told directly to camera.”
Sometimes war seems very far away, but Abbott didn’t have to go far to find one of the more poignant stories in the documentary.
“One of them was Captain Mary Ann Barber, who now lives in Wasaga Beach and works at (CBF) Borden. She has a very powerful story, this is why I enjoy doing it, it is an unexpected story,” said Abbott.
“The soldier’s stories are very strong, but here you see what a nurse goes through from just the details of what her story was and then the fact that she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress and she never got outside the fence. She wasn’t on the front line, nobody shot at her, but the tragedy of her story is that she saw so many casualties, and it wasn’t just soldiers. They had a lot of Afghan families.”
The production shows that war isn’t just soldiers.
“We recreate this story where this child dies in her arms, so I Am War is about finding other cracks, other viewpoints, not just a guy or a woman with a gun so that is the heart and soul of the story.”
Truth never varies too far from the presentations of the dramatizations and for Barber, she was there with the film crew on the day of the recreation because she didn’t want it poorly done out of respect for not only anyone who watched it but for the nurses, doctors and medics that she worked with during her three tours.
“I wanted my fellow nurses and docs and medics looking at it to say oh yeah they did have the right equipment and that they were dressed properly. They used the right terminology and lingo. So I wanted it to be realistic for my own people. Certainly as someone who wasn’t there watching it you might not ever know, but for us as military we watch a lot of these shows,” said Barber. “I’m sure that it is the same for cops and paramedics, anyone who knows watching TV and they shake their heads and think that is so not true, so not realistic, so not how it was.”
Abbott, who has done more than 20 documentaries on the First and Second World Wars, found that this Afghanistan assignment was the hardest.
“The hardest thing for me with Afghanistan - and it’s still hard and we are going to air - they are all suffering from some level, all of our storytellers,” said Abbott. “We have Dan Matthews who is 45 now and he experienced the first IED attack on Canadians and that was in 2003 and he is still suffering for PTSD. We have Mary Ann Barber who went three times to Afghanistan over there as a nurse and she is still suffering even though she has come a long way.“
Barber admits that telling the story is one thing, seeing it played out, even for a camera was difficult.
“It was devastating for me actually, it is one thing to tell these stories and I’m comfortable now sharing my experiences about Afghanistan and the patients that we cared for. It was a completely different experience now to see it lived out in real time with other people trying to portray what I was experiencing,” said Barber. “So I was trying to explain to them the emotions that I was feeling and what we would have done and how we would have done it. Watching them go through the motions of that was really challenging. It was really hard and I wasn’t expecting that. It was a struggle to have to relive it again it, brought me back.”
Through all of the stories Abbott presents, it is the psychological effects on all five that gave him the greatest worry.
“The end of the show just has the five saying what they thought. The last one is the Afghan interpreter who is the local guy over there I think that he is the only one over there, I mean he suffered so much his whole life. I think the even living there I don’t think he has PTS,” said Abbott. “I think at the end of the day he is the one who comes away from it the most unharmed emotionally but I think that that’s the way they were.
Now he lives in Calgary, but he talks about his parents being killed by the Taliban because he and his brother were translators for the Canadians.”
It all comes home to Abbott when the show closes.
“At the end of the film we have all of them talking about coming home. I think Ashley Collette, said it best when she said ‘Fighting over there was easy, the hardest part was coming home.’ Each of them, I think it would be a truthful statement. All of them had to find a way to battle it and they are still battling,” said Abbott.