FARMER/VETERAN

6182032909

A documentary film about trauma, truth and the search for a new identity in the wake of war. 

 

frequently Asked Questions

WHY DID YOU WANT TO TELL THIS story?

Jeremy M. Lange, Director - I started looking into the stories of returning active duty military and veterans after realizing I had no direct connection to the wars being fought in the name of my country. I felt it was my responsibility as a citizen to try and share some of their stories and gain a better understanding of what it takes to fight in a war and the long term consequences. I have never been the one to go overseas and photograph combat, but I felt that these stories are on the other side of that coin and are equally important.

Alix Blair, Director - I’m curious about how people seek healing after traumatic events. Aside from Alex Sutton, the only recent veteran I was connected to is someone whom I farmed with and I saw how much working outdoors and with the earth made a positive difference in his life. The soldiers who fight our wars make up less than 1% of our population. I wanted to better understand their reality, what is working for them, what is not, and how are their loved ones and communities are affected by what they have gone through?

How did this story change OVER TIME?

Early on we thought this would be a simple, short film looking at the therapeutic benefits that farming could offer combat veterans. Beyond holistic therapy, it seemed like a novel solution to address the larger issue of U.S. farmers aging out and retiring. Veteran unemployment is high, recent-era veterans are young and tend to be self-motivated, hard-working individuals. And so we began interviewing non-profits and other veteran farmers, but as we spent more time with Alex a much more complex and universal story emerged. Telling that story demanded that we question the isolation of farm life and the impact of psychoactive medications in long-term mental health care. We also needed to explore the ways we cope with trauma and loss through narrative.

As we learned more about Alex’s past it became clear that he was also dealing with trauma that had occurred long before he enlisted. How did that impact his ability to cope with his experiences in combat? We sought counsel from mental health professionals and began to face difficult questions of who gets to decide what is trauma and what constitutes a heroic injury? Each iteration of the edit became less about presenting solutions and more about raising questions as we discovered these valuable conversations that we need to be facilitating as a society in the midst of our longest wars. For us, allowing Alex to share his own story felt like the most powerful and honest way that we could begin those conversations.

 

Have the Suttons seen the film & what was their reaction?

The Sutton and Silberhorn families have seen the film. We shared it with them before submitting to festivals in 2015. Given the personal subject matter, some moments in the film gave them pause. We discussed the reasons for our approach and they understood that without showing the unfiltered and complex realities of living with posttraumatic stress, civilian audiences would be unable to relate on an emotional level with their experience.

The Suttons were incredibly courageous to put their personal lives on display, with the hope that their story could be of service to other veteran families struggling with similar issues. "I am hopeful that it will help somebody," said Alex in a recent interview about the film. "And if it helps at least one person, it was worth it all."

What was Alex Sutton’s military experience?

The following is cited from Alex's official DD Form 214

Date of Enlistment & Discharge: June, 1998 to July, 2011

Branch of Service & Rank: U.S. Army, Sergeant, E5

Character of Service: Honorable

DEPLOYMENTS

  1. IRAQ | Nov. 11, 2002 - Jan. 1, 2004
  2. IRAQ | Nov. 20, 2004 - Nov. 19, 2005
  3. IRAQ | Aug. 13, 2007 - Aug. 1, 2008

MILITARY OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTIES (MOS)

  • 11B2P (Light Infantry Paratrooper Team Leader) with 82nd Airborne Division
  • Following an injury, Alex was reclassified to 92Y28 (Unit Supply Spec.) in 125th MMT 82nd Sustainment Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division
  • 42A28 (Human Resource Spec.)

Decorations, Medals and Campaign Ribbons

  • Purple Heart
  • Combat Action Badge
  • Iraq Campaign Medal w Four Campaign Stars
  • Army Commendation Medal (3rd Award
  • Meritorious Unit Commendation
  • Army Superior Unit Award
  • Army Good Conduct Medal (3rd Award)
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Global War On Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
  • Global War On Terrorism Service Medal
  • Non Commissioned Officer Prof. Development Ribbon (2nd Award)
  • Army Service Ribbon
  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal w/ Arrow Head Device
  • NATO Medal
  • Expert Infantryman Badge
  • Parachutist Badge
  • Driver And Mech Badge W Driver - Tracked Vehicles Clasp
  • German Army Marksmanship Badge Gold
 

How did ALEX receive his purple heart?

Sergeant Sutton was injured in combat during his first deployment to Iraq [2002 - 2004]. According to military records he received multiple shrapnel wounds from small arms fire. Following his first deployment he was diagnosed with PTSD and was deployed two more times. The majority of his 100% VA disability ratings was awarded for chronic PTSD, post traumatic brain injury and chronic lower back pain.

Alix Blair and Jeremy M. Lange

In the United States there’s a stark and increasing divide between who goes to war and who does not. "The last decade of war has affected the relationship between our society and the military," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a commentary in 2013, "As a nation, we've learned to separate the warrior from the war.” This means, as civilians, we are far from being able to comprehend the lasting legacy of our wars on the individuals who serve in them, as well as the families and communities that most directly support them. We may thank them for their service, but how often do we listen and see them as they are, not as we would like them to be? In Alex Sutton we encountered an unsettling and revealing look at the other side of that divide.

Originally we had set out to explore the therapeutic potential of agriculture for combat veterans. We met Alex and he was in love—with beginning his farm and with his girlfriend Jessica. That love was contagious and we were excited to tell a story of new purpose and healing. However, as the seasons changed and Jessica became pregnant, Alex could not keep ahead of the work or his own demons. Mental health professionals we consulted with cautioned us that recovery from trauma is painfully slow and non-linear, but there was something else impeding our ability to connect with Alex’s experience. We began to notice inconsistencies between his stories and his military medical records, specifically how he left his final tour in Iraq. Our focus became understanding why.

The stories we tell ourselves hold a powerful place in trauma recovery—for better or worse. Following Jessica’s example, we made room for Alex’s narrative without judgement and came to understand far more in return about the real legacy of trauma and Alex’s loss at the center. We believe that by offering a humanizing and largely unfiltered experience of one man’s struggles, we can create more understanding across the civilian-military divide. We want this film call out to our civic responsibility to Alex—and to all veterans returning home—to acknowledge their individual sacrifices regardless of how we feel about the wars they have fought in on our behalf. It is our shared burden to carry. We do so by making time and space to receive their stories, compassionately meeting them wherever they are in their journey.