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At Large

‘Almost Sunrise’ for veterans

The count stands at 22 American veterans taking their own lives every day. This means, by some estimates, that more US soldiers have died from suicide than from combat since the war in Afghanistan began.

But that’s just one of the many challenges that American veterans face when they come home and seek to return to civilian life, to “normalcy.”

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Michael Collins, director of the documentary-in-the-making “Almost Sunrise” about two veterans undertaking a cross-country trek to seek healing for themselves and raise public awareness of veterans’ issues, says he was “shocked to learn about the challenges that face many returning military (people) after their time in combat.”

Among these challenges: homelessness, unemployment, posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and what Collins calls “the suicide epidemic.”

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These are the issues undergirding “Almost Sunrise,” telling the story of Tom and Anthony “who embark on an epic journey to heal from their time in combat.”

Making their way across America on foot, Tom and Anthony walk some 2,700 miles, meeting with veterans and their families, sharing their stories, and drawing attention to the lingering problems that bedevil veterans and spill over into their families, too often culminating in the veteran’s suicide.

The two men’s passage, says a blurb for the film, “is one of redemption, an outer transformation and inner awakening brought on by a discovery of the power of community, bringing these young men out of their battered psyches and into a renewed sense of relationship with the people and world around them.”

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Collins adds that “Almost Sunrise” also deals with an issue little recognized or diagnosed among veterans. He calls this “moral injury,” describing it as an “emerging term in the mental health field identified by professionals frustrated with the failure of traditional institutional efforts to make a dent in the suicide rate.” Officially, “it is used to describe the psychological damage service members face when their experiences on the battlefield challenge their moral beliefs.”

Indeed, how does a former soldier cope with memories of killings, shootings or bombings he or she had carried out in the line of duty and under command (or duress)? How does one deal or reconcile with the guilt, anxiety, and even shame these give rise to?

Still, despite the searing exploration of such moral, psychological and physical challenges that veterans face, Collins says “Almost Sunrise” is “a story of hope.” It tells of “moving through adversity and finding a way to the other side. Throughout their journey, Tom and Anthony encounter strangers whose kindness and generosity lead them to the reconnection they seek.”

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Though principal photography for “Almost Sunrise” has been completed, the documentary-makers have yet to complete editing and final polishing.

In this, the making of “Almost Sunrise” parallels the story of Tom and Anthony and the redemption they seek in starting their journey.

The film, says Collins, will be used in an advocacy campaign “that ignites this timely and much needed national and international dialogue around veterans’ issues.” Saying he wants to “bring my passion for impact, awareness and action” on the issues, Collins says he and his team will partner with several nonprofit organizations “who do important work around this issue,” and engage with veterans, their communities, and policymakers “in a frank conversation about the realities of coming home.”

At the same time, adds Collins, “we will support the physical and mental health work of veterans organizations by highlighting successful holistic therapies such as meditation, breath work and physical exercise in nature, as well as supporting community initiatives that serve veterans and work to bridge the gap between the military and civilian communities.”

To raise the $70,000 needed to complete editing and postproduction work on “Almost Sunrise,” the team has gone on the web-based fund-raising site kickstarter. So far, they have raised $27,240 from 420 backers from around the world who will, aside from being acknowledged in the film’s credits, will also receive a variety of “gifts” ranging from a video copy of the film to T-shirts, hoodies, posters and original prints. You may also contact them at info@sunrisedocumentary.com.

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The “Filipino connection” to “Almost Sunrise” is via producer Marty Syjuco, who worked with Collins in the documentary “Give Up Tomorrow” on Paco Larrañaga, who was accused and found guilty (with others) of the rape-murder of the Chiong sisters of Cebu. Larrañaga was saved from the death penalty by his transfer to a Spanish jail (his father is Spanish), but as far as the documentary-makers know, he continues to languish in prison in Spain.

But there is another connection, one shared by soldiers fighting insurgents and bandits in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country, and embroiled in battle in other parts of the world. Indeed, the welfare of veterans is an issue little addressed in the Philippines, even if our military and police have been engaged in armed combat for well over 40 years.

Has there ever been a “national conversation” on the state of our veterans—those wounded or maimed in battle or psychologically harmed as a result of their experiences? There have been campaigns to raise money for the children and families of soldiers and police killed in the line of duty. But what of those who survived the battle, only to face poverty and neglect when they “come home”?

Are our own veterans anywhere near their “Almost Sunrise”?

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