Filmed over five years, THE WEIGHT OF HONOR follows the lives of the caregivers of veterans who have been catastrophically wounded in America’s longest war. Their lives are transformed overnight to 24/7 caregivers tasked with caring for their war-wounded. The film reveals the family dynamics, their relationships before the wounds of war, and the uncertainties that lie ahead.
The film screened Friday at the San Antonio Film Festival.
Military and Veterans' Issues reporter Carson Frame sat down with Stephanie Seldin Howard, the director. A transcript of the interview is below.
Frame: So I understand that this film has some roots in San Antonio.
Howard: The San Antonio Film Festival is the first festival to select us. It's sort of a coming home because so many of the caregivers either were from here or they're actually flying in to be part of the festival.
Frame: How did you get involved with this project initially?
Howard: I was having coffee with a friend of mine and I said, "You know not taking anything from the vets, but I think there are a lot of films and there is a lot of media attention to them. I feel strongly that there's another story here. I just don't know what it is.
And she said, "No one's done anything about the caregivers."
I sort of thought, "Well this is boring. I mean, about the doctors and nurses? Isn't this what they do all the time?"
And she said, "No, no. It's about the mothers and the wives and the families."
Frame: I understand this film follow five families, many of whom passed through San Antonio as part of their medical care.
Howard: We were here a number of times. They were treated at BAMC [Brooke Army Medical Center], Fort Sam Houston. They were also at the Center for the Intrepid for their physical therapy. So real burn victims, which of course is what BAMC is famous for.
Frame: So this film pays a lot of attention to the role of children as caregivers. Can you give me some examples of how children are taking on responsibilities that they might not otherwise?
Howard: For a family where the vet has severe has severe PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and TBI [traumatic brain injury], the children can't help but be impacted by that. Because their dad went to war as this big, strong, tough guy. And now he comes home and he's afraid of a lot. A lot.
One of the little boys we talked about was four years old at the time. And they went to the VA for a medical check. And the vet was really scanning. He was looking everywhere, up and down the hallways. If a door shut, he really really was afraid. His little four year-old son took his hand and explained to him "Daddy that's okay, that's just a door slamming. Daddy, daddy, that's okay. I'm here."
So you have a four year-old child who's very intuitive of what his father needs. That he's able to calm down his own dad, where you'd think the roles would be reversed.
Frame: Absolutely. That's incredible. While you were working on the film, did any trends emerge with the caregivers themselves? Struggles that they're having or complaints that they all echoed?
Howard: One of the problems that I heard over and over, especially from the experts is: We're losing this husband-and-wife kind of relationship. It becomes almost nurse-and-husband. And you don't want that. You want them to have a relationship that can be nurtured and that can continue. So if someone could take the kids for an evening, and let them go to dinner and a movie, and not put them in a position where they have to hire a sitter and pay all that money that they may not have, that can work wonders.
Frame: There's one family in the film that took a look of photos while their soldier was in recovery. How does that play into the overall story?
Howard: They were so strong in their hope that they said to themselves, "We want to take a lot of pictures for when he's better and he's home and he can see what it was like."
Frame: This film doesn't just focus on the plight of the caregiver. It seems to emphasize the passage of time and... change.
Howard: That's kind of the ultimate look at the film. It's not so much, "Oh these poor people." But the larger message is, "Look how strong, resilient and courageous these military spouses can be."
Frame: Stephanie Howard, thank you for speaking with me.
Howard: You know, this has been really exciting for us. We've worked really hard, and now this is the fun part. So thank you for inviting me.