With fourteen veterans of the First Special Service Force installed in the front row of the Robson Ballroom at the Mayfield Inn and Suites in Edmonton, Alberta, and over 100 more audience members seated and standing behind them, In the Footsteps of The Force was successful premiered on Friday, August 12th, 2011.
Upon entering the ballroom expertly set up by the excellent catering and events staff at Mayfield, attendees were greeted with Italian-themed appetizers and drinks to their right, and an informational table about the film to their left. At this table, handmade Remembrance Poppies were scattered amidst order forms for the film’s DVD and other merchandise, such as the poster and t-shirt. In commemoration of the evening, the poppies and posters were free for the taking and remembering; and as a barometer of the appreciation of the film, order forms ran out almost immediately. If you are interested in ordering a DVD of this film, please email me at tamarscoggin(at)yahoo.com.
After some opening remarks by John Hart, the Canadian coordinator of the First Special Service Force tours to Italy, the Italian coordinator, Gianni Blasi, delivered a meaningful salutation via a pre-recorded video message. Then, the lights dimmed completely and the film began to roll.
In the Footsteps of The Force opens with a prologue scene, introducing the scope of the film’s historical engagement with The Force: their participation in the liberation of Italy from Nazi occupation from November 1943 – June 1944. This history of The Force, the enormous causalities they endured as an unprecedented elite warrior group, and the survivors who returned, were introduced in juxtaposition of footage of a demonstration of today’s special forces raiding a house compound (an eerie cinematic coincidence considering the recent capture and “elimination” of Osama bin Laden). Then the veterans of the First Special Service Force saw themselves as they were last summer in Helena, Montana: gathering for the traditional Saturday Memorial Service and the playing of “Cadence to Arms” by a Scottish pipe band. But one of the emerging messages of In the Footsteps of The Force is that this is a film not just of the soldiers of the First Special Service Force (that has been done), but of the legacy that is now following in their footsteps too. And this legacy saw themselves up on the big screen too: holding their hats in reverence, visiting the places where their fathers died, and carrying veterans up a mountain one at a time so that they could see, perhaps one last time, where they fought their greatest battles and lost their greatest friends.
As director of In the Footsteps… I am a self-proclaimed pacifist and cultural relativist (and my passport proclaims me to be a U.S. citizen with a Canadian study permit), so making a film about U.S. and Canadian soldier veterans – and thus embracing the military legacy that The Force begat – has been an exercise in exploring the sides of one’s self, one’s community, one’s nation and transnationality that I have never before had to face like this. I was born a woman, thus not subject to the draft. My father did not have to go to Vietnam because of my grandmother’s loss of her Forceman husband. My brother did not have to serve because he blessedly came of age between Iraq wars. I had a cousin who served in the second Iraq war, but he got out as soon as he could – haunted by “the ghost war,” as one Canadian Special Operations soldier described the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2011 Edmonton reunion weekend. I’ll never forget going to my cousin’s “coming home” ceremony at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. As his wife rushed out to embrace him after dismissal, her red sweater a Christmas beacon in the sea of desert camouflage, I thought not only of my grandmother who never got a chance to welcome her husband home – alive – but of all the other spouses and partners left bereaved for the rest of their lives.
I am not a hawk, but nor am I a dove – rather, I consider myself a Horse when it comes to the question of where my conscience and loyalty lies considering nationality, patriotism, war, peace, and what legacy my ancestors have wrought. Horses are by nature flight creatures: we would rather flee danger than turn and confront it. But nature is no longer a factor – just a story, a theory – at this stage of history, and what once were creatures of fear and species self-preservation have become partners, defenders, and yes, warriors, once we see clearly what is worth fighting for. We will stomp, kick, piaffe and passage for the ones we love, and would rather die to protect than live and let suffer. It is difficult to make such decisions: when to fight and when to passively resist; and as rebel forces enter Tripoli and a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are unveiled all in the same day, we are reminded of what a paradoxical, yet still possibly redeemable, species we are.
When the lights went up after the screening of In the Footsteps… I did not know what to do with that standing ovation. Hands held in prayer position in front of my heart, and humbly accepting the gorgeous dozen white roses offered by the participants (and featured cast) of the 2010 Italy tour, I knew I was just a mere vehicle for greater things to come.
So thank you to everyone who made that special evening possible – you know who you are: you laughed in the right places, you cried in the right places, you gave when the economy continued to tank, and you showed up when you could have been doing something else. To us Horses, you had our loyalty and deepest gratitude when you stepped across that threshold into the Robson Ballroom – whether you were there physically or in spirit.
Post-script: The Force has been recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal. Our goal is to have the medalling ceremony coincide with the 2012 First Special Service Force reunion in Washington, D.C., but that means we need to write U.S. representatives to urge them to pass the bill in time. For more information on how you can be proactive:
Information about FSSF Congressional Gold Medal