Ordinary yet compelling


dry land

The Dry Land dramatizes the impacts of post traumatic stress on a soldier returning from Iraq.

America Ferrera is a long way from the territory of hit comedy television series Ugly Betty in her latest cinematic venture The Dry Land, which Ferrara stars in and also produced. The film dramatizes the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as James, a working class soldier, returns to his family after serving in Iraq. The setting is ordinary, working class, small town Texas and the dialogue could almost have been cut and pasted from similar films, such is its ordinariness.

James lives in a trailer, finds work in his father-in-law’s slaughterhouse and has a sick mother. We learn his father was a Vietnam vet who drank himself to death. Life’s bleak and while Ferrera, the loyal, loving wife and his close buddy Michael (Jason Ritter) offer him a touch of relief, the silently suffering James only pushes them away, accelerating the psychological, downward spiral.

While director Ryan Piers Williams’ debut feature (out on limited release July 30) is in danger of plodding too heavily down an angst-ridden road, its illustration of how the reverberations of wartime violence can strain a man to breaking point does have an authentic and earnest air, which other directors might have subjugated to thrills. Iraq is in the background, but it is not re-visited, not even through flashbacks. James has forgotten everything and in the second part of the film, it becomes a quest to piece together his troubled past.

I recently heard the director talking about The Dry Land at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Asked if the film was an anti-war film, Williams was emphatic, repeating several times that it was “not a political film.” I’d have thought the stark realities of PTSD, as depicted here, would be crushing, both for military recruitment drives and for the general morale of troops preparing to go back into the field. But it seems the US military takes an enlightened attitude toward PTSD. In fact, after a violent episode, James seeks support from a military doctor. Ferrara and Williams, just back from visiting troops in Iraq, noted they had received very positive responses from members of the forces who had seen the film and that it had offered PTSD sufferers a way of opening up and talking about the trauma they’ve experienced.

On a related note, the documentary Countdown to Zero (due out July 23) looks at the dangers we currently face from nuclear weapons. I haven’t seen the documentary, but I’m expecting good things from it. The film comes from Participant Media (http://www.participantmedia.com), a company that specializes in thought-provoking, powerful docs, such as An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc. and The Cove.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver International Film Centre is holding its 3rd Brazilian Film Festival July 15-18. Among the line-up of films is Tamboro, which, according to the news release, explores Brazil’s major socio-environmental issues, including the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, conflicts over land property in the countryside, growing shantytowns and increasing criminality in the great urban centres.

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne crops up in the documentary Beyond Ipanema –Brazilian Waves In Global Music, along with M.I.A., Tom Zé, Seu Jorge, Thievery Corporation, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and others as the film explores the Brazilian music experience outside of the country.

Finally, the documentary Within the River, Amongst the Trees follows an expedition to the Alto Solimões region where video, circus and photography workshops were taught to the riverside communities of the local Indian reservations. From the heart of the Amazon to the world, we come to learn how these people live in the most remote areas of Brazil.

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike Alone. www.youneverbikealone.com. He writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.