Hunting in Wartime

7 07 2017

29 June 2017

Hunting in Wartime HPLRecently, the Hartford Public Library sponsored a screening of  and discussion with director Samantha Farinella. This award-winning documentary highlights the lives of Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, a small fishing village in Alaska. Their entire male high school graduating class went off to Vietnam, all but one returned, but their lives were changed forever. Many began drinking heavily, experienced emotional and physical illnesses, and found their way of life challenged by changes in fishing regulations and influx of logging industries from the lower United States.

Hunting in Wartime is a brilliant work, integrating the local culture and its threat of disappearance, the impact of timbering, the loss of fishing, and the impact of PTSD from the Vietnam war. It vividly portrayed the horrific fallout from the use of agent orange on our American veterans and the lack of services available to those who had such a struggle during this war, the fact that they were not necessarily volunteers, and then the general country’s reaction to them when they returned, still reeling from the dreadful things they had seen and done.

Hunting in wartime SamanthaMoving and compelling, parts of the film was difficult to watch, as there is authentic footage showing carnage and the realities of war. I had to look away at times, but continually behind the footage were the voices of the Native American veterans and their story. And the intensity was relaxed through the use of an animated folk story that was relevant and instructive in the ways of the native people. The veterans would describe, “You’re smiling on the outside but you’re cold on the inside” and then the animated folk story of the beginning of their people would intervene: Their father the Sun sent five boys and one girl down in a basket. “Pull the strings if you’re scared,” said the Sun.

Samantha engaged the Tlingit community in all aspects of the production of the documentary. For example, they modified her title and suggested changes in the animation to make it more authentically native. The process of interviewing encouraged Tlingit veterans to talk about their experiences and also to each other.

Hunting in Wartime Carol talking

Since its completion, similar screenings and discussion were held in several Alaskan areas, notably Hoonah, Juneau, and Homer. Carol Vinick, Hartford area activist and Farinella’s mother-in-law, described how these talk-backs helped unite the native community and build bridges between them and non-natives. In some instances, law enforcement officers had a transformation when they realize that they had experienced similar issues in Vietnam. Poignant and timely, three Hoonah veterans have passed since the project began.

Hunting in Wartime Carol samantha Tom

Many of us had attended an initial fundraiser for the project at Carol and her husband Tom Connolly’s home several years ago. All   invited to celebrate there after the recent screening, bringing things full circle, somewhat parallel to the Tlingit veterans experience of returning home, changed but ultimately united again.

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