Just a few days ago, American families observed Memorial Day, many of them remembering beloved relatives lost to war. A new documentary film produced by a local man and premiering Saturday, June 4, at the Redhouse features eight such families sharing their very personal and powerful stories of loss, grieving and recovery.
Baldwinsville resident Tad Fundalinski spent four weeks cruising through six states on his Harley-Davidson, interviewing parents who had lost a son or daughter in combat in Iraq. Silenced Voices, Quiet Voices in the Aftermath of War, the first major project for Fundalinski, shares the families’ remembrances, emotions, passion and pride as 118 minutes of the two-hour film are devoted entirely to two couples and six individual parents simply telling their stories.
It’s filled with moments that challenge the viewer. Rebecca Jones of Washington, N.C., Fundalinski’s first interview subject, recalls inviting military officers into her home, observing courtesies reserved for guests, knowing what they’ve come to tell her, but not feeling the full impact until they had given her the news. Catherine Krattli of Macon, Ga., describes how she was at the curb in front of her house when she saw the U.S. Government vehicle approaching, then fled inside because that’s where she wanted to receive them. Curtis Howard of Ann Arbor, Mich., loses the composure he had maintained throughout his interview while recounting the experience of seeing his son’s coffin, knowing that he could not view his body.
Although Fundalinski, a retired Onondaga County probation officer and freelance camera operator for Time Warner Cable, had long harbored both a desire to make a documentary and an admiration for award-winning director Ken Burns, a family tragedy— the 2007 death of his 23-year-old nephew in a construction accident—led him to the subject of his film. “I watched my brother, this jovial kind of character, always happy, always warm and engaging, as his disposition changed dramatically,” Fundalinski explained. “He was struggling with that and I realized the Iraq war was going on and all these parents were struggling with their kids dying and they’ve got stories to tell. That led me to decide that I would interview families that had lost loved ones in the Iraq war, with the focus not on the politics of it, but on how they got through it personally.”
After extensive research and preparation, the filmmaker visited families in Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, as well as the New York towns of Phelps and Lancaster, meeting with families he had contacted to arrange interviews.
He spent at least three hours with each family, taping their responses to questions he had given them in advance, before turning his bike in the direction of his next subject.
Some parents featured in the film were wary of becoming part of a political statement. “My initial reluctance to become involved was based on my unwillingness to participate in something that would be used to further some political agenda,” said Andrew Marshall of Watkinsville, Ga. “So I pressed Tad pretty strongly on what his motive for making the film was. Ultimately he reassured me that that he wanted to honor the sacrifice of the fallen warriors and their families and to provide some insight into what it was like to suffer the kind of loss we have all experienced. This is an amazing project and I’m honored to have been included.”
Family members who responded to a call or email requesting their participation were generally very receptive, including one who called back after the producer had left his area. “One gentleman in particular was a minister who lost his son,” Fundalinski recalled. “He was really trying to convince me that I should interview him. And I said, ‘I’d really love to but the timing just isn’t right at this point.’ And he started to weep on the phone. He kept on repeating, ‘I don’t want anybody to forget my kid.’ It was difficult for me to hear that because I think that’s what all these parents are feeling. They don’t want their child forgotten. They wanted to share their story.”
After a torturous editing process, Fundalinski returned to each of the homes he had visited early this year and showed the completed film to the families and invited guests. “It was very dramatic,” he said. “I got a resounding approval from all the families, which was affirmation for me. At the end of the showing, I was getting these hugs from people I had met on one previous occasion. They wanted to embrace me just as much as I wanted to embrace them because of the emotions I had shared with them.”
The film, on which Fundalinski estimates he spent $13,000 of his own money, includes a list of all of the approximately 4,700 Allied servicemen and servicewomen killed in Iraq to that point. Although it adds slightly to the length, the producer wasn’t willing to make any more cuts. “I worried that it might be too long,” he conceded. “Then there was a part of me that said, ‘This was a documentary you made the way you think you should, not the way some producer or production company said you should.’ So I felt like I had the freedom to do it the way I wanted to. That aside, I interviewed 10 people, eight families. If you take two hours and divide that up by eight, each family gets 15 minutes to talk about their kid. All these families agreed to meet with me. They all agreed to share their lives with me. I felt really compelled to make sure that every family was included. I thought that if I shortened to make it more commercial, I would be compromising it, contaminating it.”
After his premiere, Fundalinski plans to show the film in the hometown of each subject while submitting it to several film festivals that typically focus on independent producers. “I might get some recognition, maybe some large production company will pick it up and distribute it,” he said.
The first showing of Silenced Voices, Quiet Voices will be Saturday, June 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the Redhouse, 201 S. West St. with a second showing at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, $8 for seniors, students and veterans, with net proceeds going to the VA Medical Center. Robert Lootens of Phelps, one of the parents interviewed, is expected to attend the premiere. For more information, e-mail tad email@example.com, or call 425-0405.
Filmmaker Tad Fundalinski: “I would interview families that had lost loved ones in the Iraq war, with the focus not on the politics of it, but on how they got through it personally.”