Thursday, June 9, 2011

“Poster Girl” Draws Crowd

Robynn Murray (photo/Stefan Neustadter)
“Poster Girl,” the 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary, drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people in a recent showing at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, NJ. The June 1 event also included a discussion with director Sara Nesson and Robynn Murray, the Iraq war veteran whose story is the focus of the film, which stirred a flurry of questions from the audience.

The 38-minute film unveils the life of a high-school cheerleader from Niagara Falls, NY who enlisted in the Army and ended up on combat patrols in Iraq, becoming a “poster girl” for women at war featured on an “Army Magazine” cover. Back home, Sgt. Murray battled the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and other injuries.

Shot and directed by filmmaker Sara Nesson, the film focuses on a veteran’s home front journey of anguish, rage and renewal. In hand-held camera shots, it shows her frustration in seeking Veterans Affairs aid, including her medical records being lost at the Buffalo VA office. In a creative turn of events, the camera closely follows Murray as she moves from kicking car doors and punching walls to working out her own healing regime of art and poetry, symbolic displays of tattoos and feisty public speeches to lance festering war memories.

An unexpected setback, highlighted in the film, is VA medical treatments that subject veterans to astonishing amounts of medication. Murray said this caused more health problems, including addiction to morphine after surgery to repair a back injury.

“I was on 14 medications at one time, from the VA!” Murray told the Puffin audience. While some VA doctors and treatments were helpful, she said, a better approach to sustained healing was getting involved with art and writing projects sponsored by veterans groups, educational institutions and cultural centers.

“I’m doing much better now,” Murray said. “My getting involved with Combat Paper [art projects] and Warrior Writers changed my relationship with my healing. No longer was it something that happened to me. It was something that I owned.” Murray added that she discovered the writing and arts projects through involvement with Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Nesson encountered Murray at a Warrior Writers workshop on Cape Cod while making a documentary on veterans turning war memories into art. "Poster Girl" has been showcased at a number of film festivals and was selected by HBO for a cable TV run in the fall.

The showing at Puffin was cosponsored by Veterans For Peace, Chapter 21 NJ; Military Families Speak Out, Bergen County; Teaneck Peace Vigil, Bergen Grassroots, Central Unitarian Church Social Action Team, Leonia Peace Vigil Group, Bergen County Green Party, Rockland Coalition for Peace and Justice, Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East, NJ Peace Action, and People's Organization for Progress, Bergen County Branch.

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