Body of War, a film by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to several standing ovations and acclaim. It won Best Documentary from the prestigious National Board of Review and was nominated for Best Documentary from Producer’s Guild of America. Body of War was short-listed for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary and was released theatrically through Landmark Theatres. Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro were featured in a special on Bill Moyers, as well as appearing on all the major networks and publications.
Body of War is an intimate and transformational feature documentary about the true face of war today. Meet Tomas Young, 25 years old, paralyzed from a bullet to his spine – wounded after serving in Iraq for less than a week.
Body of War is Tomas’ coming home story as he evolves into a new person, coming to terms with his disability and finding his own unique and passionate voice against the war. The film is produced and directed by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, and features two original songs by Eddie Vedder. Body of War is a naked and honest portrayal of what it’s like inside the body, heart and soul of this extraordinary and heroic young man.
Body of War unfolds on two parallel tracks. On the one hand, we see Tomas evolving into a powerful voice against the war as he struggles to deal with the complexities of a paralyzed body. And on the other, we see the historic debate unfolding in the Congress about going to war in Iraq.
The film opens as Tomas and his fiance Brie prepare for their wedding. However, because of his disability, we see how the simple everyday activities for Tomas are involved and challenging. War is personal and the film takes us into the skin and bones of what it means to have no control over basic bodily functions. In many remarkable scenes, we directly experience how vulnerable and open Tomas is as he interacts with his wife, family, and friends.
For their honeymoon, Tomas and Brie journey to Camp Casey, the anti-war encampment in Crawford, Texas, down the road from President Bush’s Texas ranch. It was here that Cindy Sheehan galvanized the world’s media and jumpstarted a new and growing anti-war movement. Cindy’s son Casey and Tomas were both shot on the same day in Iraq. Tomas speaks publicly, gives interviews, finding his new voice and role. As the film progresses, we witness Tomas’ evolution into a powerful leader, finding fresh abilities out of his disability and expressing his new form of patriotism. He is interviewed by Mike Wallace for “60 Minutes” and featured in a photo essay in The Nation magazine.
On a parallel track, Body of War follows the historic deliberations in Congress to grant President Bush authority to invade Iraq. During the fall of 2002, both Houses debated the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Forces against Iraq (H. J. Res 114). The House of Representatives adopted the resolution on October 10, by a vote of 296-133. The next day, the Senate passed it by a vote of 77-23.
In the film, scenes of Tomas speaking out against the war are interspersed with the packaged debate in both houses of Congress, and the vote by vote tally in the U.S. Senate. (The vote on this resolution remains highly controversial five years later. In the current presidential campaign, the vote comes up again and again.)
The foremost voice of restraint in Congress was Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, the longest serving senator in U. S. history, first elected in 1958. His eloquent opposition to this momentous resolution is vividly captured in Body of War.
In the final riveting scene, the two streams of the film come together, as Tomas visits Senator Byrd in his office on Capitol Hill. Together, they review the historic Senate vote and read aloud the names of the “Immortal 23” who stood against the war.