These American veterans are living on the edge of the cliff, in a society where their suicide rate has reached an unprecedented level in what I still see as a relative indifference if we consider the magnitude of the epidemic...
I discovered the importance of war-related trauma while traveling around the world in the late 90s and beginning of 2000 to film and to interview the last WWI veterans; they had all lived more than a century, but still often experienced what one would call today severe bouts of PTSD. At the end of the Twentieth Century, their nightmares still brought them back to the horrible battlefields of "Verdun," "La Somme" (1916), or "Le Chemin des Dames" (1917).
When I began developing On the Bridge I also rediscovered how profoundly war trauma is tied up with a culture, a nation, and a history. Knowing how deeply WWI and WWII had impacted Europe's 20th Century culture, I wanted to understand how veterans of the U.S. Iraq War perceived and changed the post-9/11 society and culture.
Looking beyond America's vision of its post-9/11 enemy, I was interested specifically in the way veterans saw the Iraqis as humans. I filmed police officer Lisa Zepeda getting a tattoo of two entwined dog tags. The first reads "U.S. Army," the other says "Salam", the Arabic word for peace. "It's hard to take, sometimes, to be associated with a crime that you had nothing to do with. [...] It is my personal apology,
extending the olive branch," Lisa said. Lisa is a 45-year-old Latina from South Chicago, a single mom and a police officer. She spent 16 months as a medic at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. I also filmed Vince. I know him and his friends very well. They live in a sort of "veteran community" in the woods on the South Shore of Lake Michigan. They have all been deployed several times. One of Vince's friends, Chris, was a guard at Guantanamo. Chris became mentally unstable and now moves from one friend's couch to another. Sergio almost always remains silent. Like him, Vince was in the Marine Corps and served in one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq in 2006. They are all haunted. This is also a time when many experienced a 360° turn in their political views and values, such as religion. Vince was taking drugs, suicidal and having a hard time dealing with violent drives. He had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but the Marines wanted him to redeploy.
The film represents the disturbing aspects of the current war. These veterans show tremendous courage by unveiling dark truths and by publicly expressing the worst aspects of the War and all the damaging effects it had on their mental health.
The film's primary role is to break down stereotypes and stigmas related to PTSD and the representations, or rather misrepresentations, of Iraq War veterans through raising awareness about what being a veteran means today.
Background: Vinny's house and friends