From a snowy small town in Northern Michigan to the mountains of Afghanistan and back, Where Soldiers Come From follows the four-year journey of childhood friends and their town, forever changed by a faraway war. The film is an intimate look at the young men who fight our wars, the families and town they come from, and the everyday struggles of their return.
That’s how South by Southwest describes this Michigan film that captured the “Best Editing” prize in the documentary category of this prestigious festival of music, film and technology. The film was shot over 4 years in Hancock and other parts of the Keweenaw Peninsula and also in Afganistan. In this excellent IndieWire interview, director Heather Courtney relates how the project came into being:
A little over four years ago, I returned to the shores of Lake Superior, on the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to explore the idea of making a film about the place I come from. Frustrated with how small-town America was often portrayed in the mainstream media, I wanted to tell a story about my rural hometown that countered those stereotypes. With no clear idea of what my story would be, I began to peruse the local paper (the Daily Mining Gazette) and read about the local National Guard unit. I didn’t even realize that a National Guard unit existed up there (I later learned that many National Guard armories are based in rural areas across the U.S.), so I went to one of their monthly trainings to check it out, and that’s where I met Dominic.
As he stood with his buddies, Dom told me he joined the National Guard after graduating from high school, for the signing bonus and the college tuition support. Pointing to the group of teenaged boys around him, he said, â€œThese are my friends and we all joined more or less together.â€
…I spent nearly two years filming them as regular 19 and 20-year-olds before they became active duty soldiers serving in Afghanistan. I also spent a lot of time with their families, friends and girlfriends. My goal was to get to know them as people rather than soldiers, and by knowing them and their families and town before they leave, we see how they all change over these four years.
Courtney’s project would end up taking almost four years of her life, as she followed the young men from their training process, to the war zones of Afghanistan and back home to Michigan, where they and their families tried to return to a normal life after the tour.
You can watch the trailer at YouTube but I liked this interview with Heather best.