Although Houston-area writer/director Robin Murray did not have any sort of experience with military veterans suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), she compares what she was able to do with her new faith-based film We Are Stronger to “building a bridge between the civilian community and vets,” especially since she feels a lot is still unknown to the public about the specific mental health disorder.
According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, there are approximately 2.8 million American veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who are suffering from PTSD. In 2014, more than 7,300 veterans committed suicide.
In We Are Stronger, Murray tells the story of Victor Raphael (Ulises Larramendi), a U.S. Army veteran who must come to terms with his PTSD when he returns home after a roadside bomb ends his career in the military.
The Current caught up with Murray last week to talk about her film, which screens in San Antonio as part of a week-long engagement (Jan. 26-Feb. 1) at the Santikos Silverado.
The Current: Why did you want to make a film on PTSD?
Robin Murray: We wanted to do a project on something important. The original idea was of a solider coming home and having to deal with flashbacks, but is in denial. Everyone has posttraumatic stress of some kind. People with this kind of pain need guidance in how to handle it. If you keep shoving that down, it will affect the most important relationships in your life. We wanted to show an extreme case of [PTSD] so people could use it in their own lives in some way.
C: What kind of research did you do for this project?
RM: I read Lt. Col. [Dave] Grossman’s book On Combat. He teaches resiliency courses with the military. It was a very good resource for me. Also, I read Rev. Chris Adsit’s book The Combat Trauma Healing Manual, which walks people through a group study. I worked through the manual myself. It has a lot of firsthand accounts and actual journal entries from people dealing with [PTSD]. Working through that manual, I got a good picture of what it looked like. Also, I watched a documentary on PTSD, [The War Comes Home], which was [hosted] by Soledad O’Brien on CNN. That gave me some great ideas of what to write in the script.
C: Did you speak to anyone with PTSD?
RM: Yes, I interviewed different people. That opened my eyes to the depths of the issue and really gave me an appreciation for our veterans and what they go through. I learned a whole lot about this vital group of people that serve our community. A lot of times they feel isolated, like no one understands. We worked with a lot of veterans [on the film] to help us legitimize it all.
C: What kind of feedback are you getting from veterans after they see the film?
RM: The lead actors really get a lot of the feedback. I think veterans feel like the actors really understand them. So many times, veterans will come up to the actors in tears after a screening. We’ve had veterans tell their wives that they had no idea what they were putting them through and that they needed to get help.
C: Why is a religious aspect to a film about PTSD needed?
RM: I firmly believe that the key part of emotional healing is that we ask our creator who created our emotions for help. Asking for God’s help in keeping you strong enough to continue to go to counseling and therapy is healing mercy on your heart. That’s a big part of it.
C: Is this film for nonbelievers or veterans who are suffering from PTSD but don’t believe religion or prayer will factor into whether they get better or not?
RM: If you have PTSD and go to a counselor, they will tell you that you must work on the cognitive aspects and find a 12-step program because that is something that could heal you from the trauma. Finding a good therapist — whether they’re Christian or not — is going to help. Some people might say they’re offended if we say a person can be healed from PTSD [with religion] and others would say [the opposite]. We try to present this as a journey of healing. I think a nonbeliever could see the film. They might be annoyed that we’re bringing religion into it, but I feel like it is brought into the film in a way that is genuine.
$8-$11, Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 7pm Fri, 2pm Sat-Sun, Santikos Silverado, 11505 N. Loop 1604 W., (210) 695-5279, strongermovie.com.