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We Went to War

In 1970 director Michael Grigsby made the acclaimed documentary I Was A Soldier, one of the first ever films about young men returning from the Vietnam War.  Forty years later he retuned to Texas, with co-author Rebekah Tolley, to see how the intervening years have served these men and has  produced what I can only describe as the masterpiece We Went to War.

Through the next 77 minutes Grigsby shows us that he is a master of his craft as he merges footage from his original film with that of the present day. Poetic is a most overused term when it comes to film making but We Went To War is a beautiful, meditative film about what happens to young men after their endeavours to serve their country are forgotten. Grigbsy is the kind of class act film maker that is afraid to let a shot linger so that the audience can concentrate and reflect of what is being said.  What is so involving is that as the film develops it becomes clear that this is much more than a tale solely about the effects of war on its combatants. The film shows how the side effects of conflict can reach out to affect family and friends up to the point at which the grandchildren are still being affected to this day.  As Vietnam vet David comments while close to tears: “If a veteran is bad then the family is bad too.”

“We all went but one thing about it, we all came back but it was hell on earth when we came back”

As wives and daughters ruminate on the senseless nature of war the film becomes ever more poignant in revealing that this is not a problem that is exclusive to Vietnam.  “You lose a sense of who you are,” states a veteran of the more recent and on-going conflict in Iraq as he and Vietnam vet Dennis drink coffee in a small town diner.

A special mention must also go to Jonas Mortensen’s stunning photography which draws us into this small town world of pool halls and diners, in a style reminiscent of Edward Hopper or William Eggleston. At a time when the suicide rates amongst Iraqi veterans is at a staggering high We Went to War is a timely reminder of the hidden and long term sacrifices that young men and women make when serving their country. “You have to be a bit mad to be an independent filmmaker,” said Michael Grigsby at Sheffield Doc/Fest. I for one am very glad that both he and Rebekah Tolley are “a bit mad”, as We Went to War is a film to be treasured.

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