Almost Sunrise

Two veterans' efforts to heal their moral injury

Almost Sunrise Almost Sunrise tells the inspiring story of two young men, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson, who, in an attempt to put their haunting Iraq combat experiences behind them, embark on an extraordinary journey – a 2,700 mile trek on foot across America. Will this epic pilgrimage be enough to release them from their self-destructive impulses and give them the chance to begin life anew?

Still healing from the trauma of war, two veterans work to free themselves from the anger that continues to burden them.

After suppressing their emotions and isolating themselves from their families for years, the weathered pair embark on a pilgrimage from Wisconsin to California in order to seek forgiveness. Over the course of the trek, Tom and Anthony, who have both served extensive tours overseas, strive to rid themselves of the personal demons that haunt them, while also raising awareness of the terrible and lasting effects of war. The beautiful and moving Almost Sunrise addresses the unrelenting torment of moral injury and urges those suffering to seek treatment.

“The rocket hit and sent shrapnel into his face and neck area – there was just blood everywhere. They were even trying to manually pump his heart.” Unable to escape from the harrowing and distressing memories that continually plague them, Tom and Anthony's conditioned military mindset bleeds into civilian life. More and more often, they find themselves being sucked into the survival mentality with which they are all-too familiar. Anthony recounts that “you resign yourself to the fact that you might as well consider yourself as already dead”, and that desensitising himself in this way was the only way that he was able to retain some level of sanity.

What does remain engraved in a soldier’s mind, however, is moral injury and that “raw primitive feeling of ‘I did something terribly wrong and I just don’t know whether I was justified – whether I can be forgiven.’” With over 20 veterans taking their lives daily, Katinka Hooyer, postdoctoral fellow at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Tom’s girlfriend, advocates addressing the soldier’s feelings of guilt and shame rather than their fear. In memory of the individuals who have lost their lives during their deployment, as well as those who have committed suicide upon their return home, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson seek catharsis and relief from this guilt on a 155-day, 2700-mile trek from Milwaukee War Memorial to Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles.

With the help of the spiritual advice of Native American shaman and Father Thomas Keating, a trappist monk who has counselled veterans for over 60 years, and the incorporation of meditative techniques such as the ‘Power Breath’, the men do adopt a more hopeful outlook of the future. “I was in this area where I thought that this was all that life had to give me and all I did was take three steps and here’s everything else.” Upon finding firmer ground, Father Keating affirms that the “human psyche has an extraordinary capacity to revive, so if it only has a crack or a few moments of peace, it knows there’s something beyond the immediate horrors that it saw and that is what frees them.”

Reviews

“This moving documentary has a compelling urgency" – Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
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“Emotionally gripping” – Mark Rifkin, This Week in New York
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“A film where life in all its small moments are on the big screen and we are so much better for it ” – Steve Kopian, Unseen Films
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Festivals
Laurel Telluride Mountainfilm Festival - Moving Mountains Award
Laurel Reel World Film Festival - Audience Award
Laurel SAMHSA - Voice Award
Laurel Mountain Film Festival - Moving Mountains Award
Laurel Waimea Ocean Festival - Best Thought Provoking Film
Laurel Human Rights Watch Film Festival - Official Selection
Laurel AFI Docs - Official Selection
Laurel Mountain Summit Festival - Official Selection
Laurel GI Film Festival - Official Selection
FULL SYNOPSIS

The Producers


Michael Collins, Director

Michael is an Emmy® nominated filmmaker and the founder of Thoughtful Robot. In 2005 he directed Caught in an Injustice, a one-hour documentary broadcast on Spanish national television that received Special Mention at the 15th International TV3 Actual Awards. In 2011, his film Give Up Tomorrow premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize for Best New Director. The film went on to screen in over 75 festivals in 40+ countries, winning 18 major awards. Most recently, the film was selected for the Puma Impact Award and was nominated for an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism.


Marty Syjuco, Producer

Originally from the Philippines, Marty moved to New York City in 2000 and worked in film distribution at Focus Features, booking the theatrical releases of independent, commercial and Academy Award-winning films. In 2004 he took a leap of faith to pursue his passion: documentary filmmaking. In 2005, he produced the one-hour film Atrapado en la injusticia broadcast on Spanish national television. He developed it into the feature-length documentary, Give Up Tomorrow. The film was an ITVS co-production and commissioned by BBC Storyville, with support from the Sundance Documentary Film Program, CAAM, Tribeca Film Institute, The Fledgling Fund, Bertha Foundation and BRITDOC, among others.

Making The Film


A few years ago, as part of a video project I’d volunteered for, I had the opportunity to interview veterans and hear about their lives and struggles. One particular day, my interview subject casually mentioned, “Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. I thought I had misheard. I didn’t. That was a pivotal moment for me in this journey to make this film. I realized right then and there that there was a crisis in this country, taking place right in front of our eyes, one to which many of us, including myself, were blind. In some deep silent corner of that realization, I felt utterly compelled to do something, to act, to serve, to help these people who had sacrificed so much.

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