Portfolio Weekly review on .pdf
"The Lost Tribe"
Gregory Epps, Portfolio Weekly (Virginia Beach, VA)
July 25, 2006
Local screening of a new documentary about growing up in the military draws a packed crowd — and
for good reason
On a Tuesday night in Virginia Beach, documentary director Donna Musil did not expect to pack a crowd to
the rafters of the Central Library auditorium.
Screening her film in our region, Musil could expect a decent turnout, but she never imagined she’d
be turning people away at the door and watching folks drag in extra chairs, or use the auditorium’s
steps as seats.
But director Musil, an Army brat herself, had found herself in brat country. Her documentary,
BRATS: Our Journey Home was a big hit with an enthusiastic local crowd.
There were laughter, tears, sounds of surprise, and murmurs of recognition as the audience watched
and listened to stories that mirrored their own in many ways. Strong local interest aside, anyone
can relate to Musil’s sympathetic narrative, and her acclaimed film is simply a well-done documentary.
Featuring rare archival footage, "home" movies shot in foreign lands, and the expert observations of
sociologists and psychologists, the eye-opening BRATS: Our Journey Home delves into all the ups and downs
of life as a military brat.
Musil reveals the largely unseen life of the young military dependents mostly through the words of the
brats themselves, as narrator (and Air Force brat) Kris Kristofferson guides the viewer through a
fascinating exploration of America’s "lost tribe" of at least 15 million people whose shared experience
has built a nearly-hidden subculture.
As adults now proud to be called "brats," they explain the difficulty of answering the common question,
"Where are you from?"
General Norman Schwarzkopf and Kris Kristofferson share their brat stories, which are no less amazing
than the stories of everyday folks like Olga Ramos and Laird Knight, who further embody the joys and
angst, and the strengths and failings of children who had no choice but to serve their country’s needs
above their own.
Director Musil addresses, but doesn’t overly dwell on the stress, depression and alienation suffered
from frequent household moves, often-harsh parental discipline, high expectations, the brutality of war,
and the prolonged absence of parents.
BRATS: Our Journey Home devotes equal time to the positive, revealing its subjects as generally
confident, task-oriented, worldly, tolerant and proudly self-reliant. There’s little racism among brats,
who, like their parents, existed daily in the orderly, integrated world of life at military bases and
outposts all over the world.
Many brats become highly accomplished achievers and overachievers. You may think of Kris Kristofferson
as merely a popular singer/songwriter and actor, but his resume also includes Rhodes scholar, Golden
Gloves boxer, and U.S. Army helicopter pilot.
Aware of his membership in an exclusive tribe, Kristofferson points out, "My childhood has shaped me in
ways that I’m only beginning to understand."
The roots of BRATS: Our Journey Home began in 1998, when Donna Musil was inspired by a book by
Mary Edwards Wertsch entitled Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress.
"I discovered I was not alone," says Musil, who says that it also taught her, "Why I was the way I was."
The humble director admits she has "lofty goals" for her "little film" which include fostering a
community with a commitment to peace. But maybe her goals are not so out of reach.
Already, Musil’s film, like Wertsch’s book, is encouraging a community that’s just beginning to
become self-aware and gain its voice. As result, our military’s family-services departments are
becoming more sensitive to social issues.
Reunion groups and Internet sites are bringing brats together for the first time. Aided by efforts
like this documentary, America’s lost tribe is finally gaining a sense of home through each other,
and uniting with the scattered siblings of their borderless family.