|SAN DIEGO, CA - The Invisible Ones: Homeless Combat Veterans, (www.theinvisibleones.org) is a 42-minute documentary that my partner, Mark Schulze, and I made after attending a Stand Down (www.vvsd.net/standdown.htm) two years ago. Our company, Crystal Pyramid Productions (www.crystalpyramid.com), had been hired by the V.A. to document the 20th anniversary of the Stand Down, a three-day event during which homeless veterans can come off the streets for meals, a place to sleep, medical, dental and psychological treatment, and even a haircut.
It took Mark and I over a year to produce and edit. I was at it in the evenings and on weekends, and my social life took a major dive because I was driven to finish it and get the word out to my fellow Americans about how many veterans are homeless, and what true patriots can do, not only to "talk the talk" but "walk the walk."
I began editing the show on Avid Pro but ran into all kinds of problems with system crashes, probably due to mixing so many formats (HDV, standard def, archival AVIs and MPEGs, etc.) and adding green-screen interviews made it sluggish. Plus, a couple of times the software would not open at all due to corrupt files. I then transferred the show to Adobe Premiere Pro, which seemed a bit more robust than Avid, but this software, too, became "haunted" during the process of putting the documentary together, and crashed intermittently, leading me to want to rip my hair out and just walk away from the project. But every time I threatened to quit, Mark would remind me that I didn't really mean it, and then I would think about the homeless veterans who were out there, some of them placing their heads on a sidewalk instead of a pillow at night. What's rougher, a few editing software crashes, or a life without shelter, comfort, and good health, surrounded by family?
So I plodded on. And finally, earlier this year, I finished the show. Glowing and yet concerned pieces have appeared in several local publications: The Light Connection, Ocean Beach Rag, Vision Magazine, Mission Times Courier and East County Magazine.
Everybody who has contributed anything to this documentary (production, music, editing, graphics, duplication, etc.) has done so pro bono. All proceeds from the show have been going to Veterans Village of San Diego, which coordinates the Stand Down and runs a program for homeless veterans at its 250-plus bed facility. People are showing the DVD at their churches and Kiwanis, Lions and veterans groups. It's been a real grass-roots collaboration. I have been gratified to see that since we grabbed the baton, there's been more of a surge in news about veterans' issues, and I do think that The Invisible Ones has been a small part of that.
At the latest count, The Invisible Ones has garnered five international awards, has screened at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, and has just been accepted to be screened at the Big Bear International Film Festival this month.
It's quite a feat to get people to watch the documentary because let's face it, it's not the kind of topic that people ordinarily want to watch. But once they do see it, they are very affected and want to do something to help. Several people have told me that they now are more aware of the problem of homeless veterans, and do some interesting things for them. They volunteer at their local Stand Down; they carry Power Bars or some sort of compact nutritional food in their glove boxes to give out to hungry homeless. It's advisable not to give money because that enables them to purchase alcohol and drugs. Some folks now simply look into the haunted eyes of homeless veterans and say "hello" and "thank you for your service to our country." After risking their lives and limbs in the military service to protect our nation, is it so difficult to show these now homeless men and women a little appreciation?
There are fringe "meanies" who think that Mark and I are "bleeding-heart liberals," that some of the homeless pose as veterans to get more hand-outs, that all homeless want to be homeless and that they are drunks and druggies who don't want help and deserve to sink into desperation. As Linda Lingle, Governor of Hawaii, says, "We have come dangerously close to accepting the homeless situation as a problem that we just can't solve." I'm with Ms. Lingle. I think the problem can be solved, if we all work together as a team. To do that we need to leave our judgements at the door. Mother Theresa said it best: "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."