On March 21, the Media Arts Department will screen “The Welcome”, a documentary about veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder attending a five-day retreat and finding healing through poetry.
The film was made by the husband and wife duo Kim Shelton and Bill McMillan. Shelton directed and produced, while McMillan, a psychotherapist also produced. Karin Stellwagen of the Media Arts Department decided to help screen the film at Pierce after serving as a Documentary Juror at the Ojai Film Festival, where the film won Best Documentary Feature.
“I believe it is an incredible story that every American should see,” said Stellwagen. “It is a story of how stories, poetry and storytelling can be a healing and cathartic experience.
For Bill McMillan, that’s what he intended to capture in the film. Feeling overwhelmed by how much pain was coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, he decided to set up a program to address the trauma many veterans carry with them. Since his wife was also a filmmaker, they decided to document it.
“We were just looking around as citizens thinking we needed to do something,” said McMillan, “It was pretty ambitious and kind of nuts but that’s what we did.”
The retreat, filmed in 2008, collected combat veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, along with some family members who also suffered from PTSD. One couple featured in the film was a Vietnam War vet and his wife of 30 years, who had been living with PTSD during their entire marriage.
Of how PTSD spreads to loved ones, McMillan said, “It’s a second-hand smoke in a way.”
The film all takes place in one room as the veterans channel their experiences at war and returning home into poetry. The end goal is to present their work at a ceremony in front of the public on Memorial Day.
McMillan thinks the documentary differs from other films by offering hope and healing, in contrast to other movies that “simply paint a bleak picture of PTSD,” he said.
“Healing is about reconnecting people, and reconnecting veterans and family members to the communities they live in,” McMillan said.
By watching the film, McMillan hopes others will do their part in welcoming veterans returning from war. He highlighted higher education institutions such as Pierce, where younger veterans are returning on the GI Bill, as areas where he wanted the film to be shown. Students who watch the film, he said, will feel touched by what they see, and will want to go out and make a difference.
“Civilian citizens can step up and do something to get involved,” he said, and they can have an impact on what veterans return to after war.
“The Welcome” will be screened from 7 pm to 10 pm in the Great Hall on March 21 where Pizza and light refreshments will be served.