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Wexner Center to host film, panel about female war veterans

Courtesy of Dada Films

“Taxi Driver,” “Brothers” and even “Forrest Gump” are films that have become iconic fictional representations of men’s lives after returning home from war. But it’s not often the story of a woman’s return home is told.

“Return,” a film about a woman’s life after deployment, will be screening at 7 p.m. Thursday in Mershon Auditorium. The cast includes Linda Cardellini (“ER” and “Freaks and Geeks”), Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”) and John Slattery (“Mad Men”).

The screening of the film and a discussion panel will be part of the Wexner Center for the Arts’ annual Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change series.

Inspired by her friend’s own return story, Ohio native Liza Johnson wrote and directed the film. Her friend’s story of returning and rebuilding the life he once had was something she hadn’t really thought about before.

Johnson said the idea opened “a gap of empathy” between a person who has been away at war and someone who has been living her everyday life.

“I had not heard that intimate of an account of that experience like that,” Johnson said.

Films about veterans tend to be dramatized in a way “Return” is not. The film avoids the use of veteran clichés, said Amanda Potter, Wexner Center for the Arts program coordinator, because Kelli, the main character, does not experience flashbacks and did not witness any traumatic scenes while away.

There was no one factor that caused the main character’s disassociation from the world she used to belong to, Potter said.

Potter said veterans and the challenges they face when they return home is an important topic which hasn’t been given proper attention. She said she hopes that events like this can help to bridge the gap between civilians and military personnel.

“There is nothing that you could point to and say, ‘Oh, that caused you to have (post-traumatic stress disorder) or depression or something,'” Potter said. “The life that she thought she was fighting for is not how she remembered it.”

In “Return,” the changes in Kelli’s daily life are subtler than how they might be conveyed in other films.

“I wanted for the character to feel like an everyday person, and sometimes I think a lot of the genre of coming home from war story often operates more in a register of melodrama,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the film is not a blanket statement about what it’s like to return home from war, but the story of one fictional character.

“I would never go so far as to make the claim that my film does justice to that topic in a broad, gigantic, final way,” Johnson said.

“Return” is a way for Johnson to display the fact that not every soldier’s attempt to re-establish life after deployment is dramatic or obvious.

“For this character, it is already very dramatic like what’s happening in her everyday life and those kind of plot mechanics just for this character were not necessary,” Johnson said.

As a U.S. Air Force veteran, a third-year in art and one of the panel members, Erica Slone, said Kelli’s story is not her story, but it is relatable and realistic.

“The way (the film) unfolds the difficulty she has adjusting, trying to re-establish bonds that she left behind, it’s very believable,” Slone said.

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