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Slamdance Film Looks At Struggles Of Returning Vets

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The Slamdance Film Festival wraps up Thursday night.   Among the films being screened is “Bastards’ Road” a documentary about an Iraqi War veteran walking across the country, reuniting with his Marine Brothers, and dealing with the memories of his combat experience.

The film focuses on Jon Hancock, a veteran who walked 5800 miles across the country, visiting the comrades from his Marine unit, known as The Magnificant Bastards.

He left his home in College Park, Maryland on September 11th of 2015.   His route was circuitous, running down to Florida, the South and Texas, up to South Dakota and down the Pacific Northwest to end at Camp Pendleton on December 12th of 2016.

The director, Brian Morrison, is a video producer in the Washington D. C. area.   He went to high school with Hancock, heard media reports about his journey and connected with him.

Morrison said he traveled back and forth, accompanied only by his camera, to film Hancock during his walk, using a GPS to locate him.     He said Hancock was alone on the road, subject to inclement weather, dangerous conditions and all types of experiences.      

“Jon would find a gun in the middle of the road.   There were people that threw pizza crusts at him.   There were people that would call him a baby-killer.  He would run across bears, mountain lion, moose.”

Along the way, he also met several Gold Star families or encountered people who invited him to dinner.

Morrison said he was struck by the veteran’s isolation during his trip, and his emotional reunions with old buddies.    

“There was that isolation and being alone with the traumatic memories from war, all out on the road across the country.   There’s nothing protecting you from your own thoughts, which you’ve been dodging since you got out of the service.  But when he started meeting with his Marine Brothers, something kind of clicked for me.  Seeing that loyalty, that support, the love.  In some cases, he hadn’t seen those guys for like, 10 years.   And then I’m seeing how their faces change, their temperament, their attitudes, the laughing, some crying, the smiles.   I mean—they just all seemed to be lighter on their feet when they were around each other, and the healing process of that.”

Sometimes the veterans were reluctant to open up on camera about their experiences.   But Morrison said it was amazing when they did talk.       

“And sometimes they were telling me stories that they hadn’t told anybody else, except for maybe a close relative, a Mom or Dad and their Marine Brothers, and that’s it.   And now they’re talking to some civilian they’ve never met, but just on the word of another Marine.   And that is a testament to that loyalty and that trust and that bond that they have with each other.   Cause that’s a courageous and brave thing to talk about the worst thing that ever happened in your life, to some guy with a video camera you don’t know.”

Morrison and his writer, Mark Stafford, came to Park City on the heels of the Santa Barbara Film Festival, where they won Best Documentary.

They said audiences there were in tears, but also appreciated the film’s message of hope.

Stafford said the film isn’t about war, but about humans and what they do after combat.

He added the message of the film is, in a way, aimed at civilians.       

“Because the veterans know what they’re going through.   They know what they’ve been through.  They need to reach out better to each other and do that.   But the civilians, they have a hard time.  The isolation and the anger and a lot of the things that the veterans go through, that builds a wall.  And it’s tough for civilians to get past that.   They aren’t patient, as patient as they should be.  They aren’t as understanding as they should be.  So Jon has become really good at speaking to how to break through that.”

Morrison said for veterans like Hancock, the trauma never leaves.   But they can learn how to cope with it, and continue on.

“Bastards’ Road” plays on Thursday, January 30th, 6 p.m. at the Treasure Mountain Inn.

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