Alternative Light: Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro at Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder's recording studio in an undated photo.  They appeared for a Q&A at the Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco last night.  Both produced and directed "Body Of War", the anti-war documentary opening in San Francisco and Berkeley, California, on Friday,  (Photo: Bernadine Colish)

With Differing San Francisco Voices, A "Body" of Outrage During and After a Special Screening

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

April 16, 2008


Last night, while millions of procrastinating Americans were scurrying to post offices near and far, an audience of over 300 people at the Embarcadero Cinema here saw the Bay Area premiere of "Body Of War", a resolute and overwhelmingly moving documentary about Tomas Young, a 20-something U.S. soldier paralyzed by a bullet fired from an AK-47 within his first five days of duty in Iraq on April 4, 2004.  Confined to a wheelchair, the soldier who was gung-ho just two days after the awful events of September 11, 2001 to get Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan after seeing his commander-in-chief exhort New York firefighters by saying, "the people who knocked down these buildings will hear from all of us soon," was now telling everyone who would listen about the needless pain, death and destruction that war has caused, including the arduous everyday routines that Mr. Young has to undergo. 

Mr. Young, who was instead sent to Iraq by the U.S. military, was there fighting for five days before being paralyzed by a bullet that shattered his spine. 

Some in the movie theater audience here were passionate, vigorous and a little impatient, verbally tangling with Phil Donahue, one of the directors and producers of "Body Of War", which opens here and in Berkeley on Friday.  Mr. Donahue during the post-screening Q&A had said that any impeachment of the current U.S. president and vice president would be "a waste of time", which prompted some mildly heated exchanges and shouts from some in the audience, which included the activist group Code Pink, Iraq Veterans Against The War, and Gold Star Moms Speak Out.  "We have to preserve the constitution!", shouted one woman.  "They should be brought up on war crimes!", chimed another.  "They broke the law!", declared a third.  Mr. Donahue, who along with co-director Ellen Spiro, a veteran documentary filmmaker, had spent the better part of three years of his life making "Body Of War", said that it would only make those against the war become the very same as those in the Bush Administration who had a "we gotta go get 'em" attitude about Sadaam Hussein just prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

During the screening of "Body Of War" the audience reserved their loudest disapproval for Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton, whom the film shows in a speech on Capitol Hill about the vote for using military force against Iraq repeating what appear to be talking points that other senators culled from the White House in their reasoning and explanation for why they thought it necessary to vote to invade Iraq and go to war.  Many audience members booed and hissed her loudly when she appeared, and by comparison chided U.S. president George W. Bush far less vociferously.  Democratic senator John Kerry received a few hisses, and San Francisco-based U.S. democratic senator Dianne Feinstein was scolded heavily, while Representative Barbara Lee, the Democratic congresswoman from Oakland, California, was richly applauded when she was seen giving her speech.  Representative Lee was one of 133 House members in Congress who voted against using military force and going to war in Iraq, as was San Francisco-based California U.S. senator Barbara Boxer, the democrat who was also applauded by many in the audience.

Mr. Donahue received most of the questions, which included whether the former talk show host and commentator whose television show on MSNBC was annexed just prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, would be looking to have a show on the Internet, while Ms. Spiro answered one or two questions, including why the film had no U.S. soldiers of color portrayed and why only white male soldiers were being shown.  Addressing the woman (who said that she was a member of Iraq Veteran Women of Color) who asked the question, Ms. Spiro responded by acknowledging her concern, saying that "we need to continue to tell as many of our stories as we can." 

Mr. Donahue commented about being taken off the air by MSNBC.  "You can't have a gray-haired old man talking and making statements against the war, in November 2002, on the corporate media networks.  Imagine a young kid feeling that way and saying those things to his Republican boss at work, though.  That takes immense courage." 

("Body Of War", which features music for the film by Eddie Vedder, is expected to arrive on Netflix after its theatrical release will and eventually on Showtime cable television.)

The former television talk show host recalled showing the film to former U.S. senator Bob Graham of Florida.  "I was nervous as hell," Mr. Donahue said.  "And when the film ended, he turned to me and said, 'this film should be shown at every college and university in the country.'"

Many audience members here felt that it should also be shown to high school and junior high school students.

After the q&a session, Mr. Donahue continued the passionate discussion that had earlier ensued, in the theater lobby with one member of Code Pink, who told him that waiting to take legal action against President Bush after he leaves office in January would not be an option. 

"We need to bring back the draft," Mr. Donahue said as he was leaving the theater lobby area, "and let the rich guys fight, not these poor kids."

Tomas Young meets with mothers of soldiers still in Iraq or who were felled there, during a scene from "Body Of War".  (Photo: Ellen Spiro/Mobilus Media)

"Body Of War" opens on Friday at the Clay Theater in San Francisco and the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley.  For more information visit

Related: A mother's pain

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