This morning, I had the unique opportunity to watch an advance screener of an amazing new documentary on PTSD called Buried Above Ground. Director Ben Selkow spent a period of six years documenting the stories and lives of:
Luis – an Iraq War vet who is now a best-selling author and in-demand public speaker;
Erundina – a survivor of both childhood and domestic abuse who fights the demons of addiction, and;
Ashley – a lifelong New Orleans resident whose life and home were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Ben, who in 2007 released a documentary on living with bipolar disorder, leads us through several years in the lives of these three individuals, all of whom have been impacted by PTSD. He clearly understands the devastating effects that psychological injuries can have on a person’s physical well-being, personality, security, and emotions.
Within the first few minutes of starting the film, I was completely engrossed in Luis’, Erundina’s, and Ashley’s stories, and the 77 minutes flew by. Ben takes his three subjects from their lowest points, through struggles as they begin their recovery, and, finally, ends on a high point for each of them. As much as I would love to, I won’t spoil the high points, because I believe that the whole film has to be seen to truly appreciate the journey Luis, Erundina, and Ashley go on; the ending of the film can’t be fairly viewed in a vacuum.
Of the three stories, because of my own background in a para-military organization, I identified most closely with Luis. Luis was a multiple-tour combat vet whose unit was ambushed in December of 2003. That night, he received physical injuries that necessitated the use of a cane to walk for the rest of his life, and psychological injuries that ultimately resulted in him beginning to work with his service dog Tuesday. The bond he creates with Tuesday validates the utility that service animals can play in the lives of those with PTSD, but also reveals Luis’ frustration with a society where many don’t understand service animals because they don’t grasp psychological injuries. A short, 30 or so second encounter that Luis has with a cabbie he is trying to hire speaks volumes about the day to day struggles he and other service animal users go through.
Luis’ adventures with Tuesday led to him writing a book, in part as a tribute to his brothers and sisters in uniform who he lost during combat. Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him becomes a best-seller, leading Luis to media events, book readings, and even the Letterman show.
Erundina’s and Ashley’s tales are no less compelling. Their trauma stems not from combat, but from physical abuse and living through a disaster, respectively. The abuse that Erundina endured at the hands of both authority figures when she was a child and the father of her son as an adult led to depression, substance abuse, involvement in the criminal justice system, and trips to rehab. Ashley watched her newly-started married life and newly-purchased home be washed away by the winds and water of Katrina.
Like Luis, however, they both find redemption in healing and confronting their pasts, and futures, head on.
Buried Above Ground has received dozens of accolades on the festival circuit, including from the Picture This Film Festival in Calgary. The film is making its world television debut on Tuesday, 28Jun at 8 PM on the WORLD Channel. This is great news for my American friends!
It is, however, a bit of a bummer for us Canadians, as WORLD Channel is not part of any Canadian broadcaster’s lineup. Ben and his partners have this covered, however! They are actively encouraging community groups, mental health advocates, student groups, and so on, to arrange for community screenings. They have already done several of these across the US to great effect and great response. Info on booking a screening, which I’m already starting to contemplate for my hometown, can be found here:
If I were a film critic, I suppose I may find some technical or artistic issue with the film. But I’m not. I’m just a cop with PTSD who instantly connected with both the subject matter and the lives Ben lays bare for the world to see.
Are there lots of documentaries out there about PTSD? Certainly. But I have yet to see one that covers the subject in such a broad spectrum and from so many different perspectives. Buried Above Ground is an outstanding piece of work and if you are living with PTSD, or you love someone who does, I urge you to do everything you can to find it on Tuesday night and open your mind for an hour and a half of work from a director who treats both his subjects and their demons with knowledge, dignity, grace, and warmth.
Twitter feed for film: @BAG_DocFilm
Brian is a HuffPost contributor and the author of the book ‘On the Other Side of Broken – One Cop’s Battle With the Demons of PTSD’, which is available here.