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HomeCraftsPostproductionPP-Patricia Foulkrad's The Ground Truth

PP-Patricia Foulkrad's The Ground Truth

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Patricia Foulkrod’s disturbing documentary film The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends gives voice to the young veterans of the current Iraq war, revealing the realities of their military experience. It’s an experience that goes beyond catchy recruitment slogans like “Be all that you can be” into the actuality of what joining the armed forces, especially during war, really means: learning to kill. This dark truth becomes even more shocking when, on their return home to unprepared families and communities, these killing machines are left to cope with psychological traumas, such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and dwindling government support.Yet despite the lack of official assistance, many veterans are taking a proactive approach to filling the void by helping their own cope with the toll of the war and its long-term consequences, as outlined in Foulkrod’s documentary.The film took almost three years to make, beginning as an extension of Foulkrod’s concerns about the war in Iraq. After organizing Peace on the Beach, an anti-war event that drew 5,000 people and received international coverage, Foulkrod admits, “It radicalized me because I realized as an individual, you really could make a difference. Once you realize that you can make a difference, you can’t turn back. Then you have to decide if you really want to [make a difference].”When she learned about the thousands of soldiers already medically impacted by the war, a topic being ignored by most mainstream media, Foulkrod felt that if the American people knew what was happening to our soldiers, they would be outraged. “I made the film, not to point fingers, but to say ‘You better think about what your commitment is to these soldiers because they come home feeling betrayed and devastated’,” she explains.Foulkrod decided to make a film about the invisible wounded that were not generally heard about. She went to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC and the first thing she saw when she entered the door was a 20-year old soldier without a leg and lacking a prosthetic. He was haggling with the staff at the convalescent home about his room and they kept saying, “The army doesn’t pay for this.” “I thought that’s my movie right there,” says Foulkrod. “I committed to it.”Funding allowed her to make a 30-minute version in 2004, but by then she had decided to make a feature about our consciousness of killing and the disconnect between the flag-waving patriotism of the American people towards war and the deadly job of the military. She pulled the short version of the film apart, did more filming and ended up with a feature film at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2006. Focus Features purchased the film and Foulkrod continued tweaking the edit, which included adding a new ending, finally completing the film this past July for a September release.Veteran documentary cinematographer Reuben Aaronson shot a large portion of the footage. Matthews Ackers did additional photography in New York. Footage was also acquired from un-embedded European and Iraqi journalists shooting in Iraq. A director who had shot a film on boot camp provided Foulkrod with outtakes from his footage. Originally Foulkrod thought she would license clips from famous war movies like The Thin Red Line and The Best Years of Our Lives, but due to the tight budget the filmmaker turned to stills that came from soldiers and photographers. It became a visual style for the film. This “hold on a moment” served to evoke strong emotions and kept the film from being “just news footage.”The film was cut at Post Works in New York. Carol Dysinger, the head of the editing department at NYU, introduced the filmmaker to Rob Hall who took on the task of editing. Foulkrod says, “We made an agreement that it would be a fast editing job, but it hardly was. It turned into a much bigger film than both of us thought it would be”—not an unusual scenario for documentaries.Due to the intensity of the material, the editing took an emotional toll on both Hall and Foulkrod. “I think you can have secondary PTSD by doing this stuff and you don’t even realize it. I withdrew from everyone. I was staying up to two, three o’clock in the morning. I was obsessed and couldn’t think about much else,” she says. “I was bombarded with real testimonies and first-hand stories and I had nowhere to put most of it.”As with all other aspects of the film, money was the challenge that music supervisor Kevin Dowling faced in putting together a soundtrack that not only reflected the stark realities of the war but also worked as an emotional conduit into the lives of the veterans that are the heart of the story. Dowling became involved with the film because of his friendship with the director and his vast knowledge of music. When he dropped off two CDs for Foulkrod to listen too, one of the songs, a track titled “Mary,” about losing a loved one, immediately struck a chord. Foulkrod says, “I just kept playing it over and over again. It ended up over the end credits. It couldn’t be anything else but that song.”Dowling scored a major coup by receiving permission to license a new song from gravelly-voiced singer Tom Waits, from his Real Gone album. That song, “Day After Tomorrow,” is about the war in Iraq.That response gave them the courage and leverage to acquire other relevant songs, one by one, including The Roots’ “Somebody’s Got to Do It,” and a guitar piece by Larry John McNally. The music was added organically to the film, happening over time in the same manner that the film developed. Foulkrod credits her composer Dave Hodge with writing “the best guitar piece for the boot camp. It just fit. He also composed cues for the war section that just worked.” With the help of Hodge, Sam Lehmer took on all the post sound including sound design, prepping, ADR and Foley. In addition, he mixed the movie three times as it evolved to the final release version.“I think the hardest thing was making a film about a war that is still going on. I always felt like I was chasing it. I could never stop filming. I would settle down and then I would hear about another soldier. I got this email from a vet saying ‘My convoy ran over a child and that child looks like my child… I can’t hold my child because I keep thinking about the Iraqi child.’ It still haunts me. I felt this constant pressure to tell everybody about what I was hearing,” she says. “When you’re given information, and this is why I think America is indifferent, if you meet people who are really suffering, you either have to shut it off or get active. This is a wake-up call.”

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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