Since 2001, 2.77 million U.S. service members have been deployed to support American war efforts. Approximately 14 to 20% of veterans who engaged in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD, while 32.4% of female veterans report having experienced military sexual trauma.
WE ARE NOT DONE YET profiles a group of veterans and active-duty service members as they come together to combat past and current traumas through the written word, sharing their experiences in a United Service Organizations (USO) writing workshop at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Directed by Sareen Hairabedian and produced by actor Jeffrey Wright (Emmy® winner for HBO’s “Angels in America,” two-time Emmy® nominee for HBO’s “Westworld”) and David Holbrooke (HBO’s “The Diplomat”), this powerful short film debuts THURSDAY, NOV. 8 (8:00-8:40 p.m. ET/PT), in conjunction with Veterans Day (Nov. 11), exclusively on HBO.
The documentary will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.
With support and guidance from Wright and poet Seema Reza, the members of the group come together to combat trauma by emphasizing perseverance and community, telling often-hidden truths about their experiences serving their country.
The We Are Not Done Yet project evolved from writing workshops led by Reza, chair of Community Building Art Works, a charitable organization that develops arts programs for veterans and their communities. The participants, who come from varied backgrounds and branches of the military, including the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy, share their fears, vulnerabilities and victories via poetry, which becomes a process for bonding, empowerment and healing. As the film vividly shows, the written, visual and performing arts can be valuable tools in the healing process.
In workshop sessions and rehearsals, men and women confront the best and the worst of their lives in the military, opening up about ongoing struggles with PTSD (born not only from combat but also from sexual assault), including the resultant challenges of readjusting to civilian life. Each veteran and active-duty service member brings unique experiences and hardships to the stage, but they find common understanding and hope through the difficult work of addressing their pasts.
Intent on overcoming the sexual assault she experienced in the Army, April decided to participate in the workshop as a result of her journey towards spiritual growth, self-healing and reflection. A.V. views the military as both a blessing and a curse, and uses art and poetry to help him cope with his PTSD.
Joe, a former Marine and single parent of an autistic son, struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts and crippling guilt. He is now a visual artist, emphasizing how important painting has been in processing his trauma. Valerie, a former Air Force mental health technician and sexual assault survivor grappling with intense PTSD, now creates symbolic artwork that highlights sexual assault in the armed forces.
The documentary culminates in an emotional performance of the group’s collaborative poem, “We Are Not Done Yet,” at Washington, D.C.’s Lansburgh Theatre.
Despite the benefits to veterans, programs like this are currently facing censorship, budgetary constraints and even dismantling. Wright notes that soldiers are saluted at football games, but feels society should also highlight “stories of the effects of war on human beings who take up the call.”
He became involved in the project in 2016 after working with Theater of War, an organization that confronts social issues by conducting dramatic readings of Greek classics, drawing out raw and personal reactions to themes of the plays. This experience, combined with a visit to a Sierra Leone war zone while filming a movie in Mozambique, gave him a greater appreciation of the consequences of war and the effects of PTSD. Looking to be more involved, Wright was introduced to Reza and Community Building Art Works, eventually coming on board to direct the veterans in the stage production of their collaborative poems.
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