By Stacy Bare
Best Defense movie critic
Go see the movie High Ground. If you are a veteran or part of the military, it's an important film to watch to remind yourself of what you and your brothers and sisters in arms may be struggling with when they get out of the military, and more importantly, how they are triumphing and how even out of the military, you can continue to push yourself. If you are not in the military, it's an important film to watch because it puts several incredible human faces onto the 'veteran issues' our country is struggling to resolve when our men and service women come home from war.
The film, made by award winning filmmaker Michael Brown through Serac Films and the Outside Adventure Film School, is a survey of 11 veterans and one gold star mother (gold stars refer to those who have lost a son, daughter, spouse, or family member at war) who make a trek to the top of Lobuche Mountain in Nepal. They are supported in their mission by Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to summit Mt. Everest, and his team of climbers and support staff. Erik and his team initially set out to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his summit of Everest before taking on the larger veteran project through the organization Soldiers to the Summit.
The highlights of the film are not the breathtaking shots of the Himalaya mountains and valleys, or watching the physically impressive feats of men and women pushing their bodies in spite of a range of physical disabilities, from missing limbs to a loss of eyesight. While Brown does a fantastic job with these shots, the movie should be seen for the individuals whose stories are told, often using home movies and old photographs alongside the more polished cinematography.
Viewers are not invited to pity the veterans but are shown real people to connect to, and at times, brutally honest descriptions of the veteran experience. Most viewers should be able to see some of themselves in at least one of the participants and perhaps this alone will be the movie's triumph: to build a stronger bridge of understanding between the veteran and non-veteran.
You may, as I did, find yourself criticizing or questioning certain aspects of the overall project. For example, if as one of the participants -- Dan Sidles -- suggests, climbing a mountain in the Himalayas helps to create the camaraderie, sense of mission, and love that he felt while in the service, could that same sense of camaraderie be found in climbing mountains in the United States? And, for the same cost as climbing in Nepal, how many more climbs, with how many more veterans could be held within the borders of the country we defended?
The trick though is not to let the negatives that might seep in at the corners get to you. All in all, High Ground is a beautiful film, well shot, good action, and with a great story -- several stories in fact -- that America needs to hear about wartime and the military veteran experience. At 90 minutes, everyone has the time to go see the movie and to learn something about how and why we, as individuals fight and what it's like when we come home.
Make sure when the film comes to town to get your tickets and if you miss it in the theaters, definitely get yourself the DVD. Stay up to date on the film's tour and release dates here.
Stacy Bare served as a captain in the U.S. Army from 2000-2004 and again from 2006-2007. He served as the Counter Terrorism Team Chief in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 2003-04 and as a Civil Affairs Team Chief in Baghdad, Iraq, from 2006-07. He is now the Military Families and Veterans Representative for the Sierra Club. At 6'8" and 260 pounds of pure muscle, Stacy himself resembles a mountain. He probably would have been signed by the All Blacks as a flanker or fullback but for his love of veterans and rock climbing.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.