Bill Jones and Andy Petrus in front of the Japanese monument on Attu Island, Alaska
Veterans Bill Jones and Andy Petrus in front of the Japanese monument on Attu Island, Alaska, in Red White Black & Blue

In honor of our nation’s veterans on Veteran’s Day, we’ve compiled a list of a few Independent Lens films that centered around American soldiers. While the day was initially intended to honor soldiers who fought in WWI (timed with the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice with Germany went into effect), it has evolved in the U.S. to be a day honoring all veterans who have served over the years. With that in mind, here are five documentaries that aired on Independent Lens and which really bring the viewer emotionally into the different challenges and perspectives faced by soldiers past and present. [Most of these films can be found either on PBS.org or Shop PBS, or available to download or buy on DVD from various commercial retailers, or via the filmmakers’ own web sites.]

Woman soldier, in Lioness

Lioness
An intimate look at war through the eyes of women on the front lines and the U.S. military policy that bans them from combat that illustrates the complicated role that women play in direct war combat. “McLagan and Sommers’ Iraq-war doc avoids proselytizing in favor of telling the story of Team Lioness. The filmmakers check in with five of the women including one whose severe shell-shock speaks heart-wrenching volumes as to what they all endured.” – New York Magazine

Be Good Smile Pretty
Movingly captures filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos’s journey to find the father she lost in Vietnam, Lt. Donald Glenn Droz, who was 25 when he died; Tracy was three months old. The film won an Emmy Award in 2004, and now Tragos is back with a new acclaimed film, Rich Hill, which premieres on Independent Lens in January.

Hell and Back Again
Indiewire’s Eric Kohn wrote of this Oscar-nominated doc: “There have been plenty of combat documentaries over the last 10 years, but photojournalist Danfung Dennis’ Hell and Back Again adopts an original conceit. Dennis follows Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris, a gruff 25-year-old who was stationed in Afghanistan, during two seminal moments in his life. During an assault on a Taliban stronghold, Harris received a bullet wound in his rear that prematurely sent him home. Back in North Carolina with his wife, temporarily unable to walk and unsure of his military future, Harris drifts through his mundane life dealing with echoes of the past. Rather than letting his subject attempt to explain the trauma, Dennis shows it, repeatedly cutting between the two periods. The events speak for themselves.”

Ask Not reveals the psychological tolls on gay Americans who served in combat under a veil of secrecy. “Timely and balanced… a strong, serious effort at mixing a discussion of civil rights and a look at Americans forced to choose between love for their country and love for another human being.” —Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed in 2010.

Red White Black & Blue 
Sixty years after fighting in a lesser-known but important battle in Alaska in WWII, two veterans embark on an intense and emotional journey, returning to their former battlefield. See more about the film in an update on our sister blog, Beyond the Box. Sadly we learned of the passing of one of the film’s main “stars,” veteran Bill Jones, in 2010.  [Available to purchase on PBS.org.]

Also, from our friends at FRONTLINE, here are four more films for Veteran’s Day.

These films cover just a few stories, but can serve as a reminder to us all: veterans should be remembered, honored, and taken care of, not just one day a year but every day.