Duke alum documents veteran experience in film
This Thursday at 7:30 p.m., documentary film “Not Yet Begun To Fight” will screen at the Full Frame Theater at the American Tobacco Campus. Following the screening will be a Q&A session moderated by Wesley Hogan, director of the Center for Documentary Studies, with Sabrina Lee (T'91), producer and co-director of the film.
Filmmaker Amy Unell, a Duke alumna and visiting lecturer in Arts and Entrepreneurship, described that the film “follows five veterans as they embark on an usual form of therapy which is brilliantly juxtaposed with the chaos of war.“ The film has been praised by many, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Village Voice, and IndieWire. The Los Angeles Times called the film "A lyrical meditation on nature and war." It was chosen by the late Roger Ebert to screen at 2013 EbertFest.
Hogan noted that Lee "created a context in which veterans found words to talk about something they almost never can be candid about, outside of intensely private spaces; how they felt in war; what they missed about it; what they were afraid of; and what they loved, now that they were home."
In the film, various veterans take up fly fishing as an alternative form of therapy—one stated that “this river healed me,” showing the depth to which war affects veterans. Another said, “One of the unfortunate things about combat is that in a very large measure it taints your soul.”
Lee stated that she was led to make this movie while filming her last documentary, in which one character’s father had PTSD. Lee realized that "for those who have experienced combat, the war is never over,” and that this fact is not adequately recognized and accepted. When starting the movie, Lee did not go in with any expectations and simply sought to “have an honest conversation” while remaining “completely apolitical.”
In addition to the difficulty inherent to working on a film that is so emotionally dense, Lee claimed that one of the hardest aspects of making the documentary was “to approach five veterans we had never met before and convince them in a short time that we weren’t there to exploit them.” The crew took extra precautions to ensure that the veterans were comfortable, using smaller, less intimidating cameras to minimize any barriers between the filmmakers and the veterans.
"If you suffer from PTSD, having a large black object looming in your peripheral vision can be extremely disconcerting, so we made the call to make other sound arrangements,” Lee explained.
Along with being a documentary filmmaker, Lee used to be a modern dancer and choreographer. She explained that these different art forms are not only related, but have also been mutually beneficial to one another. She has a “compulsion to tell a story,” which would influence her to create story-driven choreography. And in her films, she has found that her dance background has given her a keen sense for transitions between scenes and timing in the music.
Lee mentioned that her experience at Duke was “somewhat unusual” and ultimately rewarding. She connected with the arts community, which she claimed “provided the springboard for me to become a documentary filmmaker.” She advised that students “recognize that there is such a tremendous opportunity at Duke” and “be diligent in seeking out those people and those classes” that will inspire them and help them.
The screening will be Thurs., February 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the Full Frame Theater on the American Tobacco Campus. Q&A session with filmmaker Sabrina Lee will follow. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit the CDS website.