In the spring of last year a French journalist who was given my email by my former editor and friend Andrew Stark contacted me. Andrew worked on the staff of an international fashion magazine and he occasionally gave me articles to write. I am in no way fashionable, but I had fun writing articles about Hemingway’s six-toed cats, chance, the fall of the Bank of England, and so on. So when Mia and her team contacted me to see if I could help produce this little portion of the movie I said yes right away. I was, and still am, very appreciative that a film with the goal to show what it means to be human would want to have the voice of the combat veteran.
I was on the fire-line, fighting California’s biggest wildfire when I got the email invitation from the French Ambassador. More specifically, I was spiking out in my tent at the end of a 16-hour work shift, one of a string of 37 days in a row. The next day after a few hours of putting out stump-hole fires and gridding the black I told the guys on my engine and my task force leader how the French Ambassador had invited me to the premiere of a film I helped work on and how it would be held in the United Nations General Assembly room with the Secretary General Bank Ki-Moon in attendance. With blackened faces, they laughed their asses off, and then came back with various quips that had something to do with them having lunch with President Obama or tea with the Queen of England. But here’s the thing: we had similar conversations earlier about how I was in an opera last year, how I was the Legionnaire of the Year for the American Legion, and all the other real things my strange luck gets me into, so they eventually came around, but as far as I was concerned, we had our little funny conversation about it and that was that. I wasn’t going to go because I had fire to fight and after that I had to start teaching fall semester. The guys wouldn’t hear of it; they told me I had to go. When’s the next time the French Ambassador would invite you to anything. How many other guys from the trailer park you grew up in have been invited to the UN. And the best question: why not?
After talking about it with my wife, she said the same thing. We had to “reprioritize” our bills, but she bought the tickets before I even returned from the fires. I came back looking like the Unibomber, but Kell had made an appointment for me at the Modern Man Barbershop off NE Albert,a and I asked for a haircut and beard trim appropriate for the United Nations.
My amazing sister-in-law and awesomely supportive wife went with me to the screening. We went through the metal detectors and four people asked for our passes and kept pointing us in different directions until we ended up in the general assembly room where the world leaders and rich, powerful, altruistic people meet with the lofty goal to create peace on Earth.
Bono, Baby Spice, Angelina Jolie, and now me.
As soon as we entered, Mia, the French journalist who had come to Portland a year and a half ago to interview us, gave me and my wife hugs and called us family. She pulled us over to Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the filmmaker, saying that he loved my interview and he was excited I had come. I trailed after her excited and embarrassed while trying hard to remember what I may have said during my four-hour interview that stuck with him.
As soon as Yann saw me, his hands shot up and he walked over in the gregarious French fashion. I stuck out my hand with a smile but he batted it away and gave me a giant hug and a kiss on my cheek. A long string of cheery French words came out of his mouth before he remembered, or realized, I am an American and therefore have mastery over only my own language. He told me how happy he was that I had come and then he grabbed me by the elbow, bent in, and told me I was representing America. I grinned and nodded solemnly, because, really, what else are you supposed to do when someone says that to you on the floor of the United Nations?
The movie was amazing. The links to all three volumes of the extended version are up on my website now. The kid in me wants to announce to everyone that Cameron Diaz, Bill Gates, and Bank Ki-Moon were all interviewed and their interviews didn’t make it into the final movie, but mine did! Haha!
So much for being as altruistic as Bono or Angelina Jolie.
The truth of the matter is that I am so appreciative and humbled to have been some small part of this movie. Out of the nine combat veterans we had interview only four made it into the movie, another made it into the book that accompanies the movie, but not only is this movie already big in the European theatres, they are also filming a 52-minute “making of, behind the scenes” documentary that will air on French television. Mia told me that this documentary would feature us Portland combat veterans. I’ll put up the link when I can get it. Also, hours more of these interviews will be playing in museums and art galleries around the world as an exhibit, so the interviews that were cut (the other five combat veterans, Cameron Diaz, Bill Gates, et cetera) will be shown as well. This is not over. Be on the lookout for HUMAN the Exhibit coming soon to your town.