Miles Lagoze, a former combat cameraman in Afghanistan, says he initially tried to make a conventional documentary, with interviews and a narrator to explain things.
Then he realized there was much that he had seen and recorded that he couldn’t explain.
So, he made the unruly, raw and compelling “Combat Obscura,” a glimpse through a lens darkly of the boredom, bravado and blood of war. It was screened at Denver’s DocuWest Film and Music Festival on September 22, 2018. After watching his movie, I joined Miles for a Q-and-A about war and storytelling.
“Combat Obscura” was often ugly, though beautifully filmed. We see young soldiers harassing even younger Afghan civilians, smoking marijuana and hashish, and dying senselessly. No omniscient voice tells us what to make of it all.
One audience member told me it looked like what a bunch of high schools kids would have made had they been set loose with a camera. Except these kids were wearing desert camouflage, carrying automatic weapons and tasked with building nation they may not have been able to find on a map before they were deployed.
Miles and his comrades were so out of their depth. But when a fellow Marine is wounded, they respond like professionals, and with such tenderness. Who knew cursing could be so tender?
So few Americans are fighting our war on terror. Maybe we can’t imagine our war. But all of us can imagine what it’s like to be an adolescent struggling with adult challenges, and in that way empathize with Miles and other veterans.
I asked Miles whether, chaotic as Afghanistan was, coming back was in some ways harder. In answer, he said that some of the young men we’d just seen on screen died by suicide after returning home. He added that he carries guilt.
The truth, Miles hopes, shall set off conversations. He wants viewers to leave theaters prepared to talk with veterans. The veterans may not be able to explain themselves fully. But, as I discovered working on “Home of the Brave,” they do want to talk, and to try to connect their pre- and post-war worlds and selves.