The Not Dead
Photography: Graham Smith
Editor: Stuart Briggs
Poetry: Simon Armitage
Music: Duncan Glasson
Colour and B&W/DigiBeta/M war footage
Festivals: Amsterdam Documentary 2007
"It wasn't as though we wasn't ready to go to war. Everyone was fully prepared. It was coming home that people wasn't ready for." So says one of the participants in Brian Hill's intense, poetic portrait of former soldiers afflicted by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The film is poetic in quite a literal way: one of its most striking innovations is that the soldiers' stories have also been rendered as poems by Simon Armitage (Ivor Novello Award and Griffin Poetry Prize winner and Britain's official Millennium Poet), which their subjects read back to camera.
The self-conscious artistry is ultimately less important than the raw emotion of the testimony, emotion that's immediate and overwhelming even when the events recalled are more than fifty years in the past. Hill maximises his film's power by focussing on three British soldiers who participated in different conflicts in different time periods: Malaya in the 1950s; Bosnia in the 90s; Iraq only a few years ago. The common lessons - primarily a lack of support and understanding for returned servicemen from the army and society at large - emerge easily enough, without the need for editorialising, and the film's simple, effective pacing gives full expression to the individual experiences. Each participant has to relive his own specific trauma, and their stories respectively embody the disabling emotions that continue to feed their nightmares: guilt, impotence, loneliness. Their experiences are at times illustrated by period propaganda and sometimes harrowing news footage.
Since the Falklands War, more British soldiers have killed themselves than have died in combat. The film addresses the question of suicide head on, and doesn't skirt other tough subjects such as domestic violence (the wife of one of the soldiers is the film's fourth and final interviewee) or the appropriate response to genocide, but it's less concerned with campaigning for change than it is with provoking empathy for the soldiers in the film and the thousands of others like them. In that respect, it's a resounding, deeply moving experience. - AL