By Joan Dixon
Bridging the sometimes very wide gap between civilian and military worlds is filmmaker Claire Corriveau’s goal. Her first film was Nomad’s Land (2007) which documented the life she came to know as a military wife.
In her new film, Children of Soldiers, she brings us into the lives of military families on the eve of deployment to war. Four fathers – full-time soldiers in the Canadian Forces — leave their CFB Petawawa homes to serve in Afghanistan. How do their children cope with the inevitable changes to their daily lives and the ever-present worry during the months apart? What if their father gets hurt, comes home changed or doesn’t come home at all? These are not questions most children have to deal with but this is the reality of the homefront.
Claire had to condense nine months of filming (as much as 60 hours of filming per family) into a documentary of less than an hour, so she can show us only glimpses, but they are powerful ones. In scenes at home over dinner, group talk sessions, and intimate conversations with each other, we witness children and young adults demonstrating their courage and their vulnerabilities. And they share with a candor and eloquence unusual for their young age.
Sisters debate the point of war. A father makes his daughter proud and a daughter makes her father proud. Yet another father surprises — and frightens — his children when they decide to interview him for the documentary. Teens step up to fill the void in suddenly single-parent households. Daughters comfort their lonely mothers.
Although it was not easy to find usually media-wary military families (and especially teens) who would open their private lives to the camera, Claire said the children who did volunteer all participated to “help other soldiers’ children know they are not alone.”
The kids were refreshingly frank and uncensored in their varied and often conflicted emotions. Kari wishes her father might have chosen a less dangerous job, Evan finds the positive in hearing less of Dad’s yelling at home, Audra wonders out loud if the mission is a lost cause, and Maddie hates when people say they are sorry to hear her father is in Afghanistan. She says “it’s his job — he chose it.”
But even if the soldiers chose to go to war, there is inevitable collateral damage to the homefront. Whether they like it or not, their families go along for the emotional rollercoaster ride throughout the long preparation before, during and even after a tour. And as Claire points out, a soldier’s allegiance to the military usually comes first in his or her life. When a soldier becomes a parent, life obviously becomes more complicated.
Children of Soldiers provides a rare and privileged insight into how tough the military life, especially deployment and war, is on the homefront. Filmmaker Claire Corriveau has accomplished her mission with the help of some very brave and wise-beyond-their-years children of soldiers. Bravo all.
Children of Soldiers premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival in September, the film is available as of November 11 on the National Film Board web site, where it can be streamed free in its entirety; on DVD and on the big screen in Edmonton as part of the Global Visions Film Festival.
[Watch the film and stay tuned for a future installment — where are they now?]