Our journey with WE WENT TO WAR started on a rainy afternoon in London in December 2007. In between developing project ideas with Michael, I was slowly making my way through his extraordinary five decade back catalogue as one Britain's great documentary filmmakers. Today it was 'I Was a Soldier' (1970), possibly the very first sustained treatment about soldiers coming home from the frontlines of Vietnam.
This was the story of three young Texan men, exposed to the madness of war and trying to come to terms, to fit back in, to mend minds bent out of shape. 'I Was a Soldier's' staggeringly quiet but searingly powerful testaments were brutal by the very nature of their calmness. Voices struggling to form words between the long pauses, hollow silences filled only with the sounds of passing cars, sheep, dogs, everyday life. Landscapes that were 'other' than the ones in their heads.
What had happened to them in these intervening four decades? What would time have brought to the greater part of their lives lived beneath such trauma? Michael and I talked and we agreed with a simple, mutual "Yes". Four years later we had walked the long road to making WE WENT TO WAR with Dennis, David and Lamar's family.
Michael knew instinctively what to do with cinematic language. Film-making was completely natural to him and had been in his blood from the age of 14, when he made his first film as a schoolboy. He always said that as filmmakers it was up to us to take risks, " to understand the beauty of sound, the importance of stunning visuals and to understand how people have so much to give...are so sensitive, so eloquent. And we have to have the courage to respect what they have to say, what they have experienced and let them communicate that to us...because it's a magical, beautiful experience." And so it was that making We Went to War was the culmination of our shared vision..."we have a joint way of seeing the world!" he used to say to me.
Completing the journey of WE WENT TO WAR, witnessing it for the first time with an audience was extraordinary. That we had even arrived there after the long haul of trying to make the film; trying to raise the finance, or just the general madness of filmmaking. To finally be able to get to strip away all the layers and get at the heart of the story of these three families was worth everything we'd been through.
Michael always said that every film he had ever made had allowed him to understand and know himself that little bit more. The hope was always to keep on growing, because he said, "If you're not growing you're dead!"... Our ultimate hope for We Went to War, was that it would allow us all to understand a little more those men, women and families, caught up in wars across lands, religion and time who forfeit much in the name of freedom.
We Went to War is out now. Check www.wewenttowarthemovie.com for further info.