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"The Welcome" is a film about a group of two dozen troubled military veterans some of whom served in Vietnam, some in Afghanistan and Iraq -- who came together at a retreat near Ashland in the spring of 2008 to learn how to share their stories, first with one another and then with an audience at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Memorial Day.
The film chronicles the process by which the veterans men and women, older and younger transformed under the mentorship of Michael Meade of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, a mythologist and storyteller with long experience in bringing communities together for healing processes. Using a variety of techniques, Meade brought the veterans around to a frame of mind in which they could write, sing or speak aloud their tales of the experience of war, of post-traumatic stress, and of a long and often impossible-to-navigate return to normalcy.
From virtually the outset, with a poem by Laura Capenter, a veteran of Afghanistan about to deploy to Iraq, "The Welcome" drills directly through any emotional reserves you might bring into it. You're unsteadied, startled, galvanized, and brought to sobs again and again. There are dark jokes and harrowing accounts of the hellish confusion of war and its grip on the memory. There are angry outbursts as the various veterans try to establish terms of respect and conduct with one another. There are wry laughs and monumental silences. And there are staggering moments of courage in which the veterans look as if they're merely speaking aloud but in which they are actually performing open-heart surgery on themselves -- in front of an audience and a movie camera.
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It's good to talk.