Much more my speed and tone is filmmaker Heather Courtney’s hauntingly beautiful and deeply felt “Where Soldiers Come From,” part of the “POV” documentary series on PBS.
In synopsis, Courtney’s film sounds like stuff we’ve seen many times before, in both fictional (“The Hurt Locker”) and true-life (“Restrepo”) films. Here, a trio of young men living in a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula sign up for the National Guard and are sent on a nine-month tour in Afghanistan. Then they come home, forever changed. It’s as simple as that.
The film begins in late 2008 and focuses on Dominic Fredianelli, a budding artist; Cole Smith, an aimless jokester; and Matt “Bodi” Beaudoin, who departs with optimism and returns embittered and mentally frayed. Barack Obama wins the presidential election along with the hopes of Cole’s beautician/waitress mother, Mary, who wants the wars to end before the boys (who proudly call themselves “Yoopers,” the local lingo for U.P. residents) are deployed.
But go they must, leaving their parents and girlfriends. Courtney embeds with the soldiers, and her footage (and the way she has assembled it) is some of the best Afghanistan war-related storytelling I’ve seen, whether as depicted in the trio’s tense daily patrols along explosive-rigged dirt roads (while listening to Nappy Roots’s anthemic “Good Day”) or hunkered down in their plywood “spanktuary” berths at the operating base.
Courtney is equally good at tenderly capturing what it’s like during the long Michigan winter back home, as the soldiers’ parents fret daily, despite the comfort of Skype connections. Something about this film perfectly captures the ambivalence of our present war, without hammering too hard the point about the cultural divide that delivers the sons and daughters of the lower working class unto a volunteer Army while sparing the upper class.
When the unit returns home, your heart will swell seeing the entire town turn out for the welcome ceremony. I watched “Where Soldiers Come From” twice — it was that good.
Now for the aggravating news: For the umpteenth time this year, I’ve been captivated by a public-television documentary only to learn that none of the Washington area’s PBS affiliates have scheduled it to air this Veterans Day week. (MPT will be showing it Sunday on one of their auxiliary digital channels, and WETA will air it on Dec. 25 — at midnight.)
But Viewers Like You can also hunt this film down with the modern tools at hand: You can wait for “POV” to stream it online free of charge, or watch it using an iPad app from PBS, or queue it up from Netflix, perhaps, or program your DVR to catch it when it comes on. “Where Soldiers Come From” is worth the search, and it deserved a prime-time slot.
Vietnam in HD
(six hours, in three parts) airs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 9 p.m. on History.
Where Soldiers Come From
(91 minutes) For Web streaming and broadcast schedules and information, visit