Over the years there have been countless shows about the recent presidential elections, documentaries, and series about the Iraq war and even plenty of films and pieces on the History channel chronicling the life of past presidents. Now docuramafilms is bringing out four of the most critically acclaimed and award winning documentaries that have covered the above topics. While all of them have been showing in theaters around the US for years now, they haven’t seen a global release and have been limited to small audience engagements. Now available on DVD for the first time and to the public are Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived, Election Day, Soldiers of Conscience, and Lioness.
Synopsis – Soldiers of Conscience
Every soldier wrestles with his conscience over killing. Although most decide to kill, some refuse. Made with official permission from the U.S. Army, SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE reveals that far more soldiers decide not to kill than we might expect. Narrated by Emmy® winner Peter Coyote, SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE profiles eight American soldiers: four who decide not to kill and become conscientious objectors, and four who believe in their duty to kill if necessary. The film reveals how everyone from West Point grads to drill sergeants, Abu Ghraib interrogators to low ranking reservist-mechanics, grapples with the morality of killing in war, not as a philosophical problem, but as soldiers experience it a split-second decision in combat that can never be forgotten or undone. Including never-before-seen footage of basic training and the war in Iraq, SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE is a realistic yet optimistic look at war, peace and the power of the human conscience.
Being a soldier has been glamorized through video games, media and even ads from the Army and Navy. It’s always painted as a job that you do for your country and while I’ve no doubt of that, it’s also a job that requires a certain set of skills and emotions. The ability to serve your country can entitle killing someone and I’ve often wondered what that decision was like for those brave enough to volunteer for service.
This documentary gives a startling picture of that exact question. I was genuinely impressed by how far this piece probed into the minds of soldiers as it really dug into the mentality of those it focused on and interviewed. The two groups of soldiers profiled here are interesting how many similarities and traits they share with one another, yet their ultimate moral dilemma has wildly different outcomes.
While the basic training and Iraq footage was shocking in its own right, it really wasn’t all that surprising. You hear how difficult these situations are and the training is honestly what I’d expect out of all of this; it’s an incredibly tough job and the decisions that these soldiers must make are literally of ones that concern life and death. For those of you who missed the original PBS broadcast of this documentary or the theatrical screenings, it comes Recommended.
Synopsis – Lioness
U.S. policy forbids women from serving in military units whose primary objective is direct ground combat. So how did a group of female support soldiers end up fighting alongside Marines in some of the most violent counterinsurgency battles of the Iraq War? Powerful and provocative, LIONESS traces the stories of five female support soldiers who served in Iraq in various capacities mechanic, supply clerk, engineer and ultimately became the first women in American history to be sent into direct ground combat. The film follows the Lionesses rapid progression from diffusing tensions with local civilians to fierce street-level combat in Ramadi, and in doing so raises such issues as gender and warfare and the deep divide between policy and practice. Together, these women s experiences illuminate the emotional and psychological effects of war from a uniquely female perspective. Narrating the Lioness stories through a wide array of mediums including first-hand accounts, archival footage, journal entries, and interviews with military commanders, LIONESS gives voice to a hidden history of female combat and, more broadly, explores how human beings are forever transformed by the trauma of war.
This documentary actually revealed something to me that I hadn’t known previously: women weren’t allowed in combat situations. I guess I just assumed that women who served in the military could be put in such situations just like the men, but there was still that divide in military law that said otherwise; not only interesting but kind of stupid in this day and age. But then again we’re just now getting around to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, so I guess the military still has some truly archaic structures.
In any case this film isn’t just so much about that divide so much as it attempts to enlighten us on just how dangerous the “non-combat” situations can still be. Women don’t receive as much training in this area and it’s kind of shocking when you watch this documentary—they’re obviously well trained enough to defend themselves, but how they don’t have the same training as the other men is just kind of ridiculous.
Overall Lioness definitely didn’t hit as deep in terms of the moral implications as Soldiers of Fortune did, but it still delivers some hard hitting material in the form of the footage, interviews and just the overall way that war affects everyone, regardless of gender. Recommended.
New Video Group is releasing all four of the documentaries mentioned in the first paragraph of this review on October 27th, but I’ve opted to split them into two separate reviews just to aid digestion easier. No point inundating you with synopsis and reviews of four different documentaries—none get the spotlight they deserve that way. For this review I’ve obviously tackled Soldiers of Conscience and Lioness. Both releases come housed in standard amaray cases and sport video and audio transfers that you’d expect from fairly modern productions. The video is clean and clear for the most part, with plenty of grain mixed in there, and audio is again adequate for this type of presentation.
Extras for the releases include:
Soldiers of Conscience
Over 30 Minutes of Exclusive Excerpts
Exclusive, Never Before Seen Footage
Update: Team Lioness on Capitol Hill
The Changing Role of Women in the Military
As with most documentaries that get released on DVD, the extras aren’t exactly plentiful but what is here does add to the overall experience. Both discs come Recommended for any war or documentary buffs—it certainly has enough to appeal to both, no doubt.
Soldiers of Conscience and Lioness arrive on DVD on October 27th.