Filmmaker Interview: Justin Springer
Justin Springer is the director of ALONG RECOVERY, screening tonight. We talked with Justin about the making of his first documentary, which was a personal project he’s been working on for a very long time.
FF: As a veteran, you must have had some very interesting and complicated feelings about your experiences. Can you share some of those with us and how they informed your documentary?
Justin: My unit experienced an extremely high rate of blast-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) while we were deployed–as did most combat units. When I returned from my second deployment, the military was publicly acknowledging a full-blown epidemic of brain injuries amongst combat troops. In our first month home, two Soldiers in my Battalion suffering from TBI committed suicide, and there were many other attempts. Rumors were rampant amongst the ranks about the fate of those receiving treatment. There was a full-blown “red scare” surrounding the injury–many Soldiers who were suffering from serious symptoms would avoid treatment for fear of damaging their careers. The media was having a field-day reporting on the injury–but I felt that major news media could only provide a very peripheral (and potentially editorial) perspective of what was really happening. Following my discharge from active duty, I set-out to discover a Soldier’s perspective on the injury and recovery process.
FF: When you first decided to make Along Recovery, where did you begin the journey? Was there a certain starting point? Was this a story mapped out in your head or did you find it during editing?
Justin: It was my goal to capture four different perspectives of the injury that would be emblematic of the greater population of Soldiers suffering from TBI. My only qualification when choosing the Soldiers was that they each have just been evacuated from combat with brain injuries–so that I could capture the recovery process from the very beginning. During the first couple months of treatment, I remained a casual observer filming various treatments/appointments at the hospital. As I began to gain each Soldier’s trust, I would ask questions from behind the camera about their experiences–I tried to walk the fine-line between casual observer and confidant. I filmed daily at the hospital with each Soldier for a year, and then for another year as each Soldier transitioned out of the Army or back to a unit–I had no way to predict what their experiences would be like–the story really came together in the editing process.
FF: What was the most difficult part of making this film?
Justin: Editing! I shot nearly 250 hours of footage. Sifting through the raw footage and finding the meaningful aspects of each Soldier’s recovery was incredibly challenging. The editing process took 18months altogether. I also felt a great amount of pressure to accurately portray the true nature of the injury and the personality of each Soldier. Recent war documentaries too often melodramatize a Soldier’s plight in order to push the filmmaker’s editorial agenda. I wanted to remain as objective as possible–depicting the injury truly from a Soldier’s perspective.
FF: Are there any future documentaries for you on the horizon?
Justin: I hope so. I am researching a couple different topics at the moment, all of which are non-war related.
ALONG RECOVERY SCREENS TONIGHT AT 9PM, ORIENTAL THEATER