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April 02, 2019 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
“Stress” director Florian Baron has lived all over the world, but one of the surprising moments of culture shock came for him when he was living in, of all places, Pittsburgh.
“I lived as a visiting student in Pittsburgh for about a year,” he recalled in an interview for Germany’s Journalisten Akademie. “During this time, by chance, I met people of my age who were at war after 9/11. For me that was something surprising at first, something I had not expected. Until then, I always associated the term war veterans automatically with old men. I did not relate that to my generation at all.”
Much of the rest of the world may not understand the impact that 9/11 had on young Americans. It was something that he hadn’t understood until he began speaking with them. “These are people who grew up at the same time as me,” he observes. “They grew up with the same movies, the same music as me. Only then did they volunteer for the military at the age of 18, actually with the knowledge that they were going to war, and with this intention as well. This is a decision that is very strange to me, which I would never have made for myself.”
Baron started with a short documentary, “Joe Boots,” focusing on one veteran’s struggle to reintegrate into society, but realized that there was a much larger narrative that needed to be revealed. He put out calls, seeking out young veterans who, like Joe, wanted to discuss the trauma that they had brought back with them and their post-combat battles to get treatment.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that roughly 11% to 20% of post-9/11 veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This number may be the tip of a very dark iceberg, however, because less than 50% of returning veterans who seek mental health services actually receive them, and approximately 20 veterans take their lives every day. In the wake of their service, which may have left them injured both in body and mind, our veterans often find themselves stigmatized and shunted to the margins.
Oddly enough, Baron found that many of the veterans he spoke to had an easier time opening up to him. “I and Johannes, the cameraman, come from Germany,” he points out. “We are not Americans who immediately classify all statements politically and have certain views. We were there out of genuine interest in [their stories].”
That approach, drawing out the stories of strangers, is at the heart of his filmmaking technique. “I find it most appealing to talk to other people, to get a glimpse into the lives of other people, which otherwise might be denied me,” he reflects. “I think for me, working on a documentary is also a way of jumping over one's own shadow or ignoring one's own prejudices and meeting people of fundamental interest.”
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