Talk Show Icon Phil Donahue Fights for Soldier
"We're all very pumped," Phil Donahue says over the phone. "We're all wired and we have no idea what's in store."The talk show-icon-turned-director is brimming with excitement over his debut film, "Body of War," being screened this weekend at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
The anti-war documentary (co-directed by Ellen Spiro) received the National Board of Review's Best Documentary award and is on the shortlist for Oscar nominees.
Donahue says he was moved to tackle the director's chair after meeting U.S. soldier Tomas Young at the urging of friend and anti-war activist Ralph Nader.
"Tomas was laying there, very loopy under wall-to-wall morphine," Donahue says. "As I stood next to his bed, I thought a couple of things: America should see this, and I can't just pat him on his head and disappear."
Soon after their initial meeting, Donahue began documenting Young's post-war life.
"The poor kid - here we are parachuting into his living room ... we had no written agreement. It's scary when I realize how much he trusted me."
Young enlisted in the Army on Sept. 13, 2001, after hearing President Bush's impassioned speech at the rubble of the World Trade Center. But after only five days in Iraq, he was left paralyzed from a bullet to the spine. "Body of War" follows the day-to-day struggle that resulted from his injuries.
"Tomas went from a life of loud music and singles bars to a life of puke pans and erectile dysfunction," said Donahue. "I told Ellen (Spiro), 'I want to show the pain; don't sanitize the war.'"
Donahue drew inspiration from Nick Ut's photograph of a naked child fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War, noting that the Bush administration doesn't allow the coffins of dead soldiers to be photographed.
"Nobody even fought it," Donahue says. "There was no hubbub. Every major metropolitan newspaper supported the war, as if we ever needed an alarm to alert to the sycophantic nature of the media."
Media reform grassroots movements and Norman Solomon's book, "War Made Easy," provided Donahue with further motivation: "The movie attempts to show the reality of war. Before the next president swaggers in and says 'Bring it on,' I want them to meet Tomas Young."
Directorial duties for the film were split between Spiro covering the personal documentation of Young, and Donahue handling Congressional material and an interview with Sen. Robert Byrd. Young's account is interspersed with the votes that led to the Iraq war resolution in 2002, highlighting Byrd's fervent debate against the war.
"There is Iraq documentary fatigue among movie people," Donahue acknowledges. "But what shocks me is that we don't have Iraq casualty fatigue.
"'Little Miss Sunshine' we ain't. But what you see is a drama that plays itself out in thousands of homes behind closed doors."
Donahue and Spiro will attend both screenings of "Body Of War" on Saturday and Sunday.
© 2007 The Desert Sun News