Semper Fi: Always Faithful (2012)

Directed by Rachel Libert & Tony Hardmon

The trick behind the documentary film is the fact that it is non-fiction. And believe me, that is very much a trick. You can discount what is said in documentaries, suspend disbelief even though as it claims to be fact. There is no mandate to say that documentaries have to be 100% true, but even when you work under that assumption, what makes them good films? This is a question I have always grappled with when it comes to docs. A good story, certainly, would make it a good doc. Well, a film like this, I think , discounts that theory as well. For which I respect the story behind this film 110%, I cannot say it was a particularly good film.

The fight taken on by Jerry Ensminger and a few other former Marines and citizens who spent time at Camp LeJeune was and is a noble one. They were cheated out of their health and safety by the US government who contaminated their water supply at Camp LeJeune for 30 years, knowingly, and did nothing about it. They seek retribution for the sins committed, for those who have already been affected, and those that might still find medical problems in their future. There is nothing nobler than that outset to right wrong and end an injustice. But the problem with the film is that it simply becomes an extended news story, one you might find on 60 Minutes on a Sunday night.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that, 60 Minutes is a very good program, but this is a film, a documentary, not a news story. I failed to find any real connection artistically or emotionally with the film or the people involved. The presentation of what was otherwise a good story was so stale and complacent. There was no value added to the story itself. And the story was not of the kind that was told with enough vigor, emotion and impact by its subjects that a minimalist approach would afford the story the room it needed to breath and speak for itself. This is a story you see a 5 minute news story on, not an 80 minute feature film. And that is the paradox of the documentary film with which I grapple with each time I encounter a film such as this.

** – Fair

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