Recently, I had the immense pleasure to see a twenty-five minute screening of the documentary film Adventure Not War at Winona’s Frozen River Film Festival. This film was directed by Max Lowe and produced by Stept Studios in 2017. Adventure Not War follows the key figure Stacey Bare (who also acted as a producer for the film) as well as two other veterans of the Iraq War, pilot Robin Brown and US ranger Matthew Griffen, as they return to the stage of the war they took part in in an effort to find closure. This documentary film, however, does more than show one group’s quest to seek closure: it brings forward the idea that war need not be fought – that personal and social networks across cultures are strong enough to bridge the gap between them, as long as we are willing to see the beauty of our world. It does so through its beautiful, long-shot footage of Iraqi environment and touching-yet-real voice-over narration of the struggles the veterans shoulder as they move throughout the film.
The visual focus of the documentary film is on the people, places, and culture portrayed; it is about their stories; their reasons and reactions and thoughts on this adventure they have willingly embarked on. The director, Max Lowe, is almost non-existent throughout the course of film, focusing instead on Stacey, Robin, and Matthew, as Lowe probably did not has much to give the film as far as narrative direction goes–that is to say, he didn’t have a reason to be involved with the ‘story’ the film is trying to portray. The subjects of the film, however, had much to give by way of narrative arc for the documentary, for they are the reason the film is as compelling as it is. Stacey Bare does the most voice-over narration and is the subject that appears behind the camera in traditional interview form the most out of all the other subjects. He is compelling, relatable, and funny as the beginning of the documentary shows, and we as the audience can also empathize with his frustrations and problems as he describes them in the first few minutes of the film. His intro pulls viewers in and makes them want to know his story, how mountain climbing and skiing helped him surmount his problems and how he plans to help his veteran friends in the same way. Another subject of the film, Robin Brown, also had a compelling and heartrending story from her time deployed in Iraq; and the last subject, Matthew Griffen, had a lot to say about the war and experiences he had to come to terms with. Each of these people had an impact on the narrative direction of this short documentary and that is why Adventure Not War is an incredible film and accomplished what it had set out to do.
The other factors that made this film amazing are the non-diegetic music and the environmental shots that the director used to emphasize the feelings and intentions of the subjects. The documentary does its best to showcase the beautiful landscape while also focusing on the culture and the people of Iraq as well. Throughout the film, Lowe and Stacey try to show the people of Iraq in a light that is not often shown due to media and public fear of terrorism and war, employing medium shots of the locals–including children–laughing alongside and talking to Stacey or the other subjects, or in their natural state doing their jobs, like a baker.
The music and shots are gorgeous and the part I want to call attention to that truly illustrates Lowe’s usage of shots and music is the moment when Stacey, Robin, and Matthew reach the top of the mountain they had set out to climb. The shot is an extreme long shot to the point where the viewers can just see the three silhouettes of the climbers and much of the screen is dominated by blue skies, white snow, and the mountain range, the music that plays drowning out all diegetic sound. A few shots later after surmounting the mountain, the three climbers are speaking–even crying–but the only thing the audience can hear is the music. This emphasizes the accomplishment and fulfillment they feel and helps us understand the importance of this moment to Stacey, Robin, and Matthew.
All in all, Adventure Not War is an incredible short documentary and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, not only for its message of peace and harmony, but for its beautiful and refreshing look at a place most people know very little about.