Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about U.S. military operations in the Middle East and follow links to student blogs about their military stories and to Hello Dave's Web site.
Producers Cerissa Tanner (left) and Aliza Nadi (right) each recently earned a master's degree from the University of California at Berkeley's graduate school of journalism. Nadi, who is the winner of a Student Emmy, has worked on television projects in Afghanistan, Mexico City and in the U.S.-Mexican border region. She currently works at NBC News in New York. Tanner works for Current TV in San Francisco.
In this week's Rough Cut, we head to the Persian Gulf on a military tour with Chicago rock band Hello Dave. It's the eighth tour taken by the band to entertain U.S. troops overseas. Traveling with the group to six bases in five Muslim countries over 11 days, filmmakers Aliza Nadi and Cerissa Tanner capture an intimate and unstructured portrayal of soldiers snatching a few days' R&R before returning to duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Our goal was to show an honest portrayal of what the men and women in the military are really like," Nadi says. "We wanted to tell the story of the war in Iraq from outside Iraq."
For the soldiers, these bases are desert oases. They're loaded with American culture, offering a soft landing from the war zone. Soldiers come here to relax, party and hang out with friends. "It's a piece of America transplanted into the desert," Nadi says.
With Hello Dave's classic American rock playing in the background, soldiers open up about their experiences of war, talking about injuries, surviving sniper attacks and losing friends. One young soldier, who must return to Afghanistan before the band performs, sits in on a sound check and sings along. "This is my own personal concert before I go back to hell," he says.
Even though there's a party atmosphere, with soldiers belting out classics from Pink Floyd, relaxing by the pool and happily breaking the three-beer limit rule, a nervous anxiety hangs over many of the scenes. The more the camera settles in on the normality of life for soldiers there, the more you sense the enormity of what they must return to.
The story was produced as part of News21, a semester-long television journalism course taught by Bob Calo at the University of California at Berkeley's graduate school of journalism. The aim of the project was to send eight students overseas to document the transformation of U.S. military bases abroad.
"It was Calo's idea to give the camera to sources, break down the wall between reporter and producer, and talk to real people," says Tanner. "He pushed us to leave polemics about the military out of our stories and to not sit in judgment of the people we talked to."
CNN aired all four of the films produced in the series earlier this month.