I recently had the honor of screening The Tillman Story at the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita Kansas. The movie for many, who haven’t followed up the history of this story, may find the story shocking, eye opening, and far more political than they imagined. With the upcoming release of the DVD, I have also had the privilege of screening the DVD.
Pat Tillman was an all-pro NFL player who seemingly gave up a multimillion dollar contract in order to join the Army Rangers shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001. Tillman joined the Rangers alongside his brother Kevin. Pat Tillman was reluctant to speak of why he joined the service, only alluding to his desire to give back to America for all she had given him. We see a private man, who loved his country, and didn’t want all of the accolades that came his way. In the aftermath of his death in Afghanistan, much transpired, with much of it inaccurate and manipulated by the government. The Tillman Story is a retelling of the truth of the events that led to his death told largely by his family. In that search, many viewers will discover a side of war, and politics they will be challenged with, including the intent to manipulate truth in order to garnish support for a cause that isn’t as clear as it may appear on the surface.
The Tillman Story is a documentary driven by story, archival footage and thought provoking challenges to the reality of political propaganda. One of the stars of the film is the direction of Amir Bar-Lev. Bar-Lev gives direction to a film that many consider one of 2011 Academy Award Snubs for Best Documentary. While not certain in my own mind if it should have been nominated, as I haven’t seen all of the films in this category, I will say, it was certainly deserving of consideration, and quite possibly nomination. The Tillman Story certainly falls within the top 2 documentaries I have seen this year.
Bar-Lev does a terrific job at weaving the story of Pat Tillman and his families search for truth. At the center of that search he not only includes those who were there, but archival footage of Tillman in the military and the scene where his death occurred. The movie does not play out as a documentary, it is intriguing, and flows as a narrative story more than I expected.
In the story we see the attempts to propagandize the war by many at the Pentagon. Where that propaganda starts and ends is one of the issues of debate. We see early on, and there is much coverage of the situation surrounding Jessica Lynch a captive early in the war where the nation tuned in live to watch her rescue. We see how the Pentagon, in many ways, staged the rescue of Lynch. We even hear that Tillman, who helped provide support in this rescue, commented how it appeared that much of what was going on was staged. This was later verified as Lynch herself disputed many of the claims and events surrounding her rescue as were reported via the Pentagon. From here, we see the irony of how the eventual death of Tillman is also manipulated and used for propaganda by many in the military, including, The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld and even the President of the United States, George W. Bush. While there is no clear evidence of the involvement by President Bush, the evidence is presented rather clearly that not only did Rumsfeld know, he in fact, used the Tillman episode to popularize the war. Unknowingly he chose the wrong family for this propaganda event, as Mary Tillman and her former husband; Patrick Tillman began a crusade for truth after discrepancies in the reporting began to come in surrounding their son, which seemed to happen from the very outset of this story.
One of the amazing things about this film, is that a family with little spiritual values, (much has been made of their Atheism) has the ability to teach spiritual lessons; among them is the reality and importance for truth, not just truth though, but the process including the search for truth. While one may appreciate this family had their son, brother, husband and friend, put up on a pedestal as a hero, the family is clear, while he may have been a hero, the truth behind his death, the truth behind the war he fought, and those who sought to manipulate the truth, does not, nor should not take away from his heroism. The tragic events that transpired to unravel the truth that Pat Tillman was in fact killed by friendly fire was something that was known from the very outset by high level officials, yet they chose to use Tillman and a made up story as a pawn in their own promotion of the war. It was clear that appropriate memos were sent out describing the reality behind Tillman’s Death, within hours of his death, and yet, several days later, we see the President of the United States, promoting Tillman’s death in a heroic fashion, that simply wasn’t true. Someone along the chain of command either ignored the truth of the memos and the situation, or President Bush chose to ignore them. The documentary gives credence to the possibility that many up to President Bush, from the officers in the field of combat, along the chain of command, ignored the truth in order to promote a lie.
In the story of Pat Tillman, and the attempt at covering up the cause of his death by federal officials, I have found myself thinking, what is the level of truth that I should hold my government to? My faith drives and moves me to follow the one many call the author of truth, yet, so many are willing to compromise their spiritual beliefs to blindly follow one that would mislead. As I struggle with my own love affair with my country, I have been reminded, that my calling to the truth, through following the one called truth, holds me to a higher standard. In many ways, I think many will appreciate this eye opening story of the search for truth regarding one that should be considered an American Hero, not because of how he died, but because of what he was willing to give up in order to show love and appreciation for those things he loved, including a country that would unfortunately lie and mislead about him and the way he died.
One of the things I like about documentaries is the ability of a good documentary to challenge one to think. I assure you, there are many rough and tough, football fans, which are God, Guns and Guts Americans that will be shocked and challenged by the story of Pat Tillman if having the courage to stick it into a DVD player to watch. At that point, they won’t be challenged to think, they will be forced to think and contemplate. Their thoughts will unexpectedly be challenged in ways many will not expect. There may be a struggle to reconsider many beliefs regarding the government and the war America is engaged in. I will note; it appears by all evidence that those critical of the war should be careful to not use Tillman’s story to support their position of the war. By all evidence, while Tillman may have had issues with the way the war was conducted, it seems to be clear, Tillman made a conscious decision to join the Army Rangers because he loved his country. I am not so sure, nor does the documentary seem to present the perspective that Tillman was not an All American Loving Man. I still wonder how it would have been good if the powers that be, would have shown the same love towards the truth of Pat Tillman, and the loss for his family that he in fact showed for his country.
The only thing I disliked regarding the DVD was the lack of special features. There was ample conversation at the Tallgrass Film Festival here in Wichita regarding this film, and its themes. Many of those, including the discussion of the war effort and the forces that control that war would have been appropriate, good conversation pieces for the special features for the DVD. I also found it short of any other features, outside of the directors’ commentary which was quite insightful. Other than that, the film is still worth viewing and discussion, and I suspect one that I will watch and discuss with various others on numerous occasions.
The Pat Tillman Story is far more than one may assume when sitting down to watch it. It is far more than a typical documentary, it is one that will challenge, and provoke thought. It has the potential to impact the viewer to action, not for or against a war so much, as for the search for, sharing of, Truth!
To see the trailer for the film, click on the video, if the video doesn't appear, click on the following link:
The following is a video remembering Pat Tillman
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