Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

There has perhaps never been a more timely moment for the making of a documentary such as this. With stories of injured squaddies grabbing the headlines and the news that the MoD has been attempting to limit compensation payouts to injured service personnel through the courts, Luke Seomore and Joseph Bull's heartfelt film shines a spotlight on the forgotten sons (for it seems to be mostly the men) who return from serving our country to find it will not serve them.

Opening with scenes of urban dereliction, Stuart Griffiths - who was in the Army himself for seven years - sets the scene. "It's easy to sort of blend in and just disappear in London," he says. And he should know. Before he rebuilt his life and made a name for himself as a photographer - his pictures are put to good use throughout this documentary - he was one of the staggeringly large number of former servicemen and women who became homeless on leaving the Forces.

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It seems incredible in this day and age that anyone should still find themselves without a roof over their head but, amazingly, a quarter of ex-service folk spend a period of time homeless. Griffiths is an insider, having done his time on the street, and his sympathetic and understanding attitude means the men he talks to are happy to open up about their experiences. These are not bitter testimonies - every last person here is proud to have served their country - but there is a pervading bewilderment as to how it can have come to this. Several are maimed on the outside, and most carry the deeper psychological scars of war. These are, on the whole, not those who leave the service through retirement - and have probably taken the requisite educational courses to help them get jobs on civvie street - but those have been 'forced' into early retirement due to their injuries.

Seomore and Bull strike a delicate balance. This is firstly a portrait of a portrait-maker (Griffiths) that broadens out to take in the bigger picture of the damage done by conflict which doesn't make it to the headlines. This is no agitrop, railing against the government, but simply a eulogy to good deeds which are not going unpunished. Issues of post-traumatic stress are touched upon, similar to those found across the Pond in short documentary Looking Back. Tales of self-medication, through drink and drugs, are common.

There is also a sense of confusion about the nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where 'normal' rules of engagement don't apply and you are "fighting ghosts". Everything about this documentary is both haunting and haunted. The spectres of Griffiths' memories of serving, of dropping out and of getting back in, stand alongside this army of still-disenfranchised heroes. The use of the urban environment to magnify the sense of desolation is poetic and moving without being overly arty or manipulative, while the decision to use Griffiths' still photographs to capture the pride and the pain is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. Truly a documentary of and for our times, which everyone should make an effort to see.

Reviewed on: 30 Jul 2009
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A former soldier pays tribute to his comrades let down by the country they have served.
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Director: Luke Seomore, Joseph Bull

Writer: Robert Benhoff, Bryan Cook

Starring: Stuart Griffiths

Year: 2009

Runtime: 64 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2009

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Looking Back