Independent Lens Explores Shellshock of a Perfect Soldier in “Farmer/Veteran”

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26 May 2017
Courtesy of Jeremy M. Lange
Premieres Memorial Day, Monday, May 29 at 10 PM ET on PBS
(Check your local listings)
          Home from three combat tours in Iraq, Alex Sutton forges a new identity as a farmer, hatching chicks and raising goats on 43 acres in rural North Carolina. He dives into life on the farm with his new love Jessica, but cannot shake the lingering traumas of war. The stories he tells about battlefield experiences become unmoored from reality as he cycles between states of heightened awareness and “feeling zombified” from a cocktail of prescriptions meant to keep him stable. For the viewer, as for Alex, what to believe about his past is uncertain. The farm becomes a terrain to unearth what is buried, what it really means to be “the perfect soldier,” and where to find the way forward.

          The filmmakers originally set out to make a film that explored the therapeutic potential of agriculture for wounded combat veterans, and were excited to tell the story of how Alex Sutton was finding new purpose and healing. But as the seasons changed, it became clear that Alex couldn’t keep ahead of the work on the farm — or his own inner demons. The stories he told of his past conflicted with his military records, and with his own physical body. The filmmaker’s focus shifted to trying to understand why.
          Mental health professionals they consulted cautioned that recovery from trauma is painfully slow and non-linear, and that the stories trauma survivors tell themselves have a powerful place in recovery — for better or worse. “So we made room for Alex’s own complicated truth and came to understood far more in return,” said Blair and Lange. “We want this film to call out our social responsibility to Alex, to all veterans returning home, that we must share in the burden of the long after-war. We do this by making time and space to receive their stories, compassionately meeting them wherever they are in their journey.”

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