Brothers hope to educate through documentary about coming home
Richmond Register, Ky.
RICHMOND, Ky. — When Jason Edwards was looking for an internship this summer, he never imagined it would become so personal.
The Eastern Kentucky University student linked up with John Fitch, associate professor of communications, who was interested in making a short film.
Edwards, 32, suggested his brother, Joe Edwards, who had served in the Kentucky National Guard for four years, for a subject.
“In Harlan County you either work in coal mining or fast food, and Joe didn’t want to do either,” Jason said.
Joe, 27, was eager to join the Army since his brother, Brandon, had done so well in the military. And, the $15,000 enlistment bonus also would help him provide for his daughter, Katie.
His infantry unit trained in basic security.
The Kentucky National Guard hadn’t been deployed overseas since 2002, so no one really expected it, Jason said.
Joe was deployed to Iraq in 2006 for 18 months during Operation Iraqi Freedom, but his division was not fully trained to do the tasks they were assigned, such as street patrol, Jason said.
Jason didn’t want to create just “another” documentary about wartime. Instead, he wanted to focus on a veteran’s coming home.
“I didn’t want it to be a piece viewed from the outside looking in,” said the broadcast and electronic media major, whose study emphasis is in film.
When his brother returned home in 2008, Joe started displaying signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as sleeping all day, drinking excessively and acting withdrawn.
In the video, Joe says he lost an entire year when he first came back.
No one in his family talked about Joe’s deployment for fear of upsetting him, Jason said.
“He wasn’t the same old Joe that left,” he said. And that’s why he decided to title the movie, “Two Brothers.”
Previously, Joe’s demeanor was quiet and reserved, but now he was loud and “in your face.”
“He was in that military mindset,” Jason said.
Or, as Joe’s fiancee Lisa says in the documentary, he lost his “civility filter.”
Jason has shot about eight hours of footage which he hopes to edit down to one hour. He works on the piece about 40 hours a week, with the goal of finishing it by August.
The last segment they want to add is an interview with Joe’s therapist about his case. For that, they need approval from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Two years after he returned, Joe was diagnosed with PTSD.
“We want to show people that PTSD is not a bad word,” Jason said.
“I was at work (one day), and he just called me crying and said he needed to see me,” Jason said. “I drove him straight to the VA Hospital in Lexington (from Harlan). I knew he needed help that I couldn’t give him.”
The VA helped Joe get counseling and medication to help with his depression and anxiety, Jason said.
The film includes interviews with Joe, his parents, his therapist and his fiancee.
Once its completed, Jason and Fitch hope to enter the documentary into film festivals and eventually show it on PBS channels.
Jason is nervous about the release of the film because it will be “the next big step in my and Joe’s life.” For Joe, participating in making the documentary has been part of his exposure therapy. This type of therapy involves talking about all of one’s issues.
The process has been a “constant bombardment of emotion” for Joe, Jason said, but it has helped him to heal.
For Jason, it’s the beginning of a career.
“It all culminated into this,” said the Harlan County native who used to work for a video store and as an usher and projectionist for a cinema.
Both of the brothers hope people view the film as a learning tool. Joe wants it to be an example for other veterans to see there is help and hope for them, and Jason wants people to see those with PTSD are not a liability.
“Most people with PTSD are very normal people who are more anxious and afraid than you realize,” he said.