In the Sundance lab documentary The Recruiter (formerly called American Soldier), we follow the Army’s top recruiter as he works the halls of high schools in Houma, Louisiana. He wows the kids with his GI Joe posture and pictures of himself in combat, he leads the kids through the recruitment process and along the way we get to know a few of these kids and the home life that drove them into his arms. At a party Friday night two young filmmakers, one from Japan and one from France, asked me if the film was paid for by the US Army. They wanted to know why Sundance was taking money from the US Army to make a propaganda film. They were very confused. I did my best to try and explain to them the values of ‘brilliantly defying partisanship’ as it’s described in the film guide blurb. I told them that in America these days there is a movement called Centerism which holds as its main principals that in order for a message or position to be relevent and effective it needs to not be seen as coming from one side or the other. I explained how the Left feels that the Center is the only way to reach people with their message. But at what cost? This is a film that wants the audience to ‘decide for itself’ about the current state of our young Army. Yet what is the value of making a film which could be used as a US Army promotional industrial recruiting tool?
The only really harsh aspect that the film confronts is the potential for the kids to get killed or maimed. The film allows the Recruiters statements like “the US Army is your family and will always be there for you” go unchallenged. I wonder if the filmmakers went to talk to some local Vets what they would say about that statement? What about all the Vets who the US Army says don’t deserve treatment for their nightmares and sudden lack of ambition upon returning from war? Letting this Recruiter’s statement go unchallenged may be the director’s way of saying she is presenting an unbiased view of the Recruiter’s job, and that if she looked into the local homeless encampment and found some angry former recruits, she’d be forcing her leftist position onto the film. I tried to explain to the confused young foreigners that such a scene would brand the film as ‘liberally biased.’ The students looked at each other. I obviously had failed to sell them on the benefits of Centerism.
“I thought docs were supposed to be about showing the truth, not taking a safe political stance,” one of them said. “Welcome to the world of American Indie filmmaking,” was the only way I could respond.
— Mike S. Ryan