If he were a senior in college today, he probably wouldn't pay to see his film, "Body of War."
"This is not a take-your-girl-to-the-movies kind of movie," said former talk-show king Phil Donahue. "It hurts me to say that. People want to be entertained - that's why you don't see this kind of film."
"Body of War" is a tough film that follows the story of U.S. Army soldier Tomas Young, whose spine was severed when he was shot after being in Iraq just five days.
The film was produced and directed by Ellen Spiro and Donahue. It hit festivals and theaters early this year, and will air tomorrow night at 7 on the Sundance Channel.
"It's tough, it's hard-hitting and has a strong message," said Laura Michalchyshyn,
general manager of Sundance. "We wanted to be able to tell a story
that's real, honest and true and hasn't been manufactured."
Donahue met Young on a visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He also spoke to Young's mother during her bedside vigil for her son, who is paralyzed from the chest down.
"I couldn't get him out of my head," Donahue said. "The first thing you think is, why him and not me?"
The former TV host remained in contact with Young and his family, and the film emerged.
Donahue has been against the war in Iraq since the start, and lost his show at MSNBC in 2003 because of his nightly stance against the war and the Bush administration.
"Body of War" blends footage from the debate in Congress on the war
with scenes from Thomas' struggle to adapt to life without the use of
most of his body.
"This is the most sanitized war of my lifetime," Donahue said. "We
do not see the pain. Less than 5% of us have sacrificed for this war.
What you see in this film is the drama that's taking place in thousands
of homes in this country occupied by young soldiers who have come home
with hideous injuries."
The film, however, focuses on just one. Young's life involves pain,
multiple health problems and trouble dealing with the sort of
activities most people take for granted.
"The American people do not see this," Donahue said. "This war is
over to them. Less than 10% of us identified the war as a the major
reason we were voting."
Sundance's decision to air the documentary on Veterans' Day is not an accident.
"It's not just about Iraq, it's about how we've treated these
veterans," Michalchyshyn said. "I don't think a lot of people have
conceived of the Iraq war veterans the same way as World War I or World
War II veterans."
In addition to Sundance, where "Body of War" will get multiple plays, the film is out on DVD. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam wrote two songs for it, and part of the proceeds of the DVD sales at Pearl Jam's Web site go to Young.
"Before the next President swaggers in front of the camera with a
big lone-star belt buckle and says, 'Bring it on,'" Donahue said, "I
want them to meet the honorably discharged Army Spc. Thomas Young."