Monday, February 07, 2011

ReelAbilities ’11: Warrior Champions

They sustained life changing injuries, but they can still kick your butt. For several wounded American servicemen, the chance of making the Paralympic Games provides camaraderie, a goal to focus on, and hopefully the opportunity to represent their country once again. Craig and Brent Renaud follow four such veterans pursuing Olympic gold on an accelerated training schedule in Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing (trailer here), which screens during the 2011 ReelAbilities, at the Manhattan JCC and points throughout all five boroughs.

Melissa Stockwell already had a claim on history as the first American female soldier to lose a limb in combat. After running the New York Marathon with a prosthetic leg (a feat predating the events of Warrior) she sets out to become the first veteran to make the U.S. Paralympic swim team. Kortney Clemons has a similar goal for the U.S. track team. A medic wounded in the final weeks of his tour while attempting reach wounded soldiers, Clemons is the only POV character to directly address the attack that robbed him of his leg, yet remarkably he expresses no bitterness.

While disillusioned might be too strong a term, Marine Carlos Leon certainly prefers to concentrate on discuss training rather than airing his views on the military. In contrast, his shot-putter roommate Scott Winkler remains as eloquently patriotic as ever. A born motivational speaker who definitely has a successful political career in his future if he so desires, Winkler spends nearly as much time recruiting fellow wounded veterans and counseling paraplegic children. Leon worries it might cost Winkler a spot on the team, but Winkler will not be dissuaded from giving back.

Much to the frustration of some New Yorkers at last night’s screening, the Renaud Brothers carefully avoid re-debating the Iraq War, instead focusing on their subjects and the therapeutic value of sport in their recovery. Nearly a two-man band, they also served as cinematographers and co-edited with Eddie Stein. Perhaps they should have composed the music as well, because the tinny-sounding canned soundtrack is a bit distracting at times. (I can recommend some fantastic emerging musician-composers for their next project.)

Few have sacrificed as much as Warrior’s central figures and lived to tell about it. Yet, their love of country remains unshakable. Indeed, it is hard to not get a little misty-eyed when the film finally reaches Beijing. Frankly, it is one of the most patriotic documentaries currently playing the festival circuit. Touching and refreshingly nonpartisan, Warrior screens again this afternoon (2/7) at Hostos Community College in the Bronx and tomorrow (2/8) at the Central Queens Library, as ReelAbilities continues throughout the City. It is also available on DVD at the film’s website.