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In a sea of documentary films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Garrett Anderson’s project is a rarity: A Marine veteran of Iraq, he has turned the camera on his battle buddies to create an intimate portrait of a day they shared together during the Second Battle of Fallujah.
Anderson, a former radio operator with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, funded his project’s $30,000 budget through the entrepreneurial startup website, Kickstarter. The premise: Let 12 Marines from his unit recount the same gritty and tragic day of fighting on Nov. 22, 2004, complemented by original footage from troops’ personal hand-held cameras. From there, Anderson’s lens follows his former colleagues as they cope with their own memories almost a decade later.
First called “And Then They Came Home,” the project was renamed “The November War” to more accurately fit the narrative as it took shape, Anderson said. The 27-year-old Portland, Ore., resident said he and his co-producer, Antonio de la Torre, are about two weeks from completion of the project, their first feature-length documentary.
Anderson’s unit, well-trained but inexperienced in the realities of battle, was on a routine deployment with an embarked marine expeditionary unit when it was suddenly rerouted to Kuwait for the invasion of Fallujah. The film’s pace is unforced, showing the Marines laughing and killing time in the desert in the weeks prior to the battle. It’s also intimate and raw; one Marine, badly wounded, is filmed administering his own Last Rites. At the end of the day on Nov. 22, six Marines from the unit would be wounded and one, Cpl. Michael Cohen, would be dead.
With a high school background in filmmaking, Anderson said the idea to make a documentary occurred to him while in Kuwait, prior to the battle. He realized that the availability of photo and video technology made it possible for Marines on the battlefield to tell their own story in a way that had never been possible.
Anderson and his crew traveled around the country and to Mexico to find the former members of his unit, now out of the military. Some, like Anderson, continue to struggle with post-traumatic stress connected to what they experienced in Iraq. Although he theorized that his 12 documentary subjects would transition home in 12 different ways, he said he was still surprised when two of the former Marines said they wouldn’t do it again if given a chance to go back in time.
“I thought there would be a unanimous, ‘no, I wouldn’t take it back,’ ” Anderson said. “But these people are proud to have been in the service, it’s more about that conflict and that situation.”
After “The November War” is completed, Anderson has another project in mind: a documentary delving into the VA backlog through the eyes of an Army friend who was wounded in 2007. Having experienced the battlefield firsthand, he said he realizes how important it is that he continues to tell troops’ stories in a way that no one else can.
“It’s going to be how a minority of the population preserves their own history,” Anderson said. “It was done by others before, and we’re continuing this tradition.”
Anderson plans to release the film free of charge on a website that will soon go live. To learn more about the project, visit the page “And Then They Came Home” on Facebook.