Director’s Statement

I started out to make a film about USU in Bethesda, “the best medical school no one’s ever heard of,” as its students called it.  It was to be an in-depth portrait of this very special institution, the “West Point” of military medicine, which has trained over 25% of current active duty military physicians.  The film was to explore why, in spite of the school’s great value, excellence and reputation, Congress and the Department of Defense kept trying to close it.

But the Iraq War intervened, and the film grew until it became an odyssey through the world of military medicine in a time of war.

Over a two year period, my small crew -- Erik Daarstad, Buddy Squires, Bruce Nolte, Jennifer Glos -- and I filmed with HD cameras in a combat hospital in the center of Iraq, on giant C-141 and C-17 planes outfitted as flying intensive care units, and in military hospitals in Germany and the U.S.

We were privileged to have virtually unlimited access to the entire spectrum of patient care from helicopter arrivals of wounded from battlefields in Iraq to rehab at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Washington and Bethesda.

We were also privileged to be trusted to share and film the deep emotions of the military doctors and nurses we met, many of whom were experiencing intense compassion fatigue after years of 80 hour work-weeks caring for thousands of war wounded patients.

And finally, we were privileged and grateful to meet many of the wounded, including Iraqi wounded, to get to know their stories and their feelings, as they coped, both physically and emotionally with their situations -- especially emotionally -- for as one military doctor says in the film, “There’s nothing normal about war.  There’s nothing normal about losing a limb or seeing your best friend die.”

For me, Fighting For Life is a portrait of the compassion, skill, dedication and bravery of military doctors and nurses, and the courage, dignity and determination of the wounded to survive, to heal and, in the words of Army Specialist Crystal Davis, severely injured in Iraq by an IED, to “bounce back.”

It is also a meditation on the sorrow of war.