Like many soldiers who return home from war, Vietnam veteran Bob Miner struggled reintegrating into the life he once knew. The only creatures he could find solace with were not human, so he created a world surrounded by animals deep in the woods of Maine.
A new documentary, "Wild Home," set to premiere at the Camden International Film Festival on Sept. 28, captures Miner's bizarre and fascinating creation, the DEW Animal Kingdom in Mount Vernon, Maine. The sprawling backcountry animal farm was launched in the 1980s and now houses more than 200 abused and abandoned animals, including kangaroos, tigers, hyenas and lions. It hosts daily tours and educational activities for the public.
Caring for the animals helped reintroduce Miner to the civilized world. Along the way, he found love.
Years after living on the farm alone, Miner met the woman who would become his wife. In 1994, Julie and her two daughters, Hannah and Heidi, came to volunteer there. Miner and Julie wed six months later, according to the farm's website. Since then, Julie Miner has played an integral role in expanding the farm.
Emmy-winning director Jack Schurman and co-director Robert Schurman first heard about the farm through their mom and friends who had volunteered there. The duo went to the farm one day and started filming without a specific goal in mind. They quickly sensed they had a great story and decided to make a feature-length documentary.
"We went up one day to check it out and were blown away, not just by the animals, but by the secluded, secret-garden feel of the place," Jack Schurman told The Huffington Post. "It's an entirely created world. It's amazing when a physical environment reflects so strongly the person who built it."
"For a long time, Bob cared for his animals in a bubble. He couldn't stand being around people after the war," Schurman said. "The animals gave him companionship without having to deal with the duplicity and hidden agendas that can come with human relationships. By teaching people about the animals, he found his way back to the world, a common ground he could share."
Miner was shot three times during the war and suffered strokes after returning home. The filmmakers said they noticed Miner had much in common with some of the abused animals.
"There's a tenderness he shares that really seems like he's speaking to them. It's like they've both been traumatized and they're comforting each other," Schurman said.
At its core, the film is about finding redemption and rebuilding on new cornerstones -- for people and for animals.
"It's tempting to think of redemption as something that hits you like a sea change. I think the truth is that redemption is a much quieter pursuit. It's not about forgetting the past. It's not even necessarily about overcoming it," Schurman said. "I think Bob and Julie have done that in a unique and poetic way. Also they have tigers, which I think everyone should have."
Watch an exclusive clip from the film below and check out the trailer above.