Following last year's awe-inspiring but nearly hopeless Hell and Back Again, it's refreshing to see the subjects of Not Yet Begun to Fight deal with the everyday struggles of returning home from war with some semblance of optimism that life can be reclaimed, even when facing down strong odds. The film focuses its attention on a group of severely disabled veterans taking part in a six-day, fly-fishing excursion put on by Warriors and Quiet Waters, the brainchild of Eric Hastings, a retired Marine colonel and veteran of the Vietnam war.
After his combat experience came to a close, Hastings was able to center himself and find healing through the meditative practice of catch-and-release fly-fishing. Acknowledging the power that it had over his own recovery process, he sought to give others the experience of returning a creature outside one's self back to the waters, an act that he highlights as running completely counter-intuitive to the forms of cruelty one must embrace to survive in combat. With the other members of the Warriors and Quiet Waters organization, Hastings has made that dream a reality, offering a form of catharsis to veterans that's as uncommon as it is effective.
Directors Shasta Grenier and Sabrina Lee allow each of the men on the trip to tell their own stories. Most are struggling to relearn physical and mental skills possessed since childhood, while some want nothing more than to return to combat. The film balances their personal tales with quiet moments of observation and beautiful imagery that evokes the importance that place holds in the form of therapy being practiced.
Perhaps most moving of all, though, is Hastings' own story: here is a man who found peace in the wake of chaos. In the most frank moment of the film, Hastings frames his use of fly-fishing as therapy as "an absolute desperate, physical and mental need," admitting that he "had to do it or I was going to kill somebody." Admirably, rather than just focus on his own recovery, the soothing ritual has moved him to help others find respite after unimaginable loss.
Not Yet Begun to Fight is a gracefully-told, inspirational investigation into an often marginalized population's quest for healing. Highly recommended.
Not Yet Begun to Fight screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) as a part of their ongoing Northwest Tracking series on Thursday, June 21st at 7pm. Director Sabrina Lee will be in attendance at the screening. More info available here.
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