Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Last Season’s Director on War, PTSD, Healing and Filmmaking

Film airing online and on PBS World Channel explores PTSD and healing

Posted May 30, 2016

Courtesy The Last Season
Source: Courtesy The Last Season

I really loved THE LAST SEASON (airing Tuesday night and online for 90 days, see below), the story of unlikely friendship and family blossoming between two very different men. They’ve each been scarred by wars in Southeast Asia, one of them a White Veteran, and the other a Cambodian man.  They both end up harvesting rare mushrooms in Oregon.  In my review last year I wrote:

“In The Last Season, the hunt for matsutake mushrooms in Central Oregon brings together an elderly, ailing white Vietnam Vet, Roger Higgins, and his younger Cambodian counterpart, Kouy Loch. They both sleep with guns across their chests; they both wake up screaming from flashbacks. Just like the mushrooms underground nourish the pines, they nourish each other, mutual symbionts. Family. Loch delivers poetic, philosophical riffs about interdependence in the Oregon forest, the binding together of life, made more poignant as we see the affection between these men, the forgotten soldiers whom we must remember as if our lives depend on it; because they do. The war inside soothed, all because the Japanese love a particular kind of rare fungus."

THE LAST SEASON will have its national broadcast premiere ‪Tuesday, May 31 at 8‪/7c (check local listings) as part of WORLD Channel's AMERICA REFRAMED series. The film will also stream free online on www.americareframed.com at no cost following the broadcast for 90 days. 

Director Sara Dosa was kind enough to answer a few questions by email.

RC: Sara, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you discovered this story.

SD: As a filmmaker, I am interested in telling multilayered, unexpected stories about landscape, community and global economy, but through a deeply personal lens and a verite style, which I hope was exemplified in “The Last Season.” I discovered the story that become “The Last Season” while I was a graduate student studying cultural anthropology at the London School of Economics. Anna Tsing, a renowned anthropologist, came to my university to give a guest lecture about labor, commodity trading and global capitalism. The Oregon matsutake mushroom harvesters were one of the communities that she studied. When Professor Tsing mentioned that this community was largely comprised of Cambodian, Laotian and Thai immigrant families who came to the US as refugees after the Vietnam War; along with Vietnam War vets who sought solitary labor to escape the confines of life in the city, I became fascinated by what seemed like the collision of geopolitical history in such an unexpected place. Here, in the Oregon woods, you had communities with a shared experience of war in Southeast Asia, however, they were brought together for the seasonal search for such a specific item: the matsutake mushroom. I was instantly intrigued and knew that Oregon’s mushroom forests had to be a place saturated with stories. After graduating, I went on a location scout to Chemult, Oregon, where I met Roger and Theresa and eventually Kouy. Upon meeting them, and hearing their stories firsthand, I knew I wanted to make this film.

RC:  I was deeply moved by this story of relationship and healing. All suffering is a crisis in connection - and the opposite of suffering is belonging. Despite the history of the war, Roger and Kouy come together.  What did this film teach you about the psychology of trauma, and healing from trauma?  Do you think they had a measure of healing?

Courtesy The Last Season
Source: Courtesy The Last Season

SD:  Making this film taught me that the trauma of war is a deeply complex state of being; it never quite leaves you and can haunt you for life. But, by putting a name to this trauma and acknowledging its existence especially with others, you can slowly come to terms with trauma's impact on your life.  In the film, Kouy describes PTSD as “a ghost that comes into you...even if you don't believe in ghosts.” However, when Kouy and Roger share their experiences surviving the brutality of war with each other, they feel less alone and trapped within their own minds. They slowly begin to release. Furthermore, Kouy is able to give Theresa, Roger's wife, advice about how to deal with his flashbacks, based on his own experiences. In this way, I think forming strong bonds of friendship and eventually, of family, did create a measure of healing for Roger, Kouy and Theresa.

RC: What was the most difficult part of making this film?

SD:  Fundraising of course, was certainly a challenge, but I think the most difficult aspect of making this film was figuring out how to coherently weave together the various, seemingly incongruous threads that played out during production. Themes of economy, ecology, wartime, family, Southeast Asian political history, life, death and mushrooms felt like a stew of interesting – yet nebulous ideas. And, as we began the editing process, the idea that these strands could come together into a “story” seemed elusive at best. But, we began to work, following the clues our subjects laid out in their testimonies. We started to stitch together patterns, drawing together resonant juxtapositions.  Erin Casper, my editor, and I realized that a central premise emerged out of the footage: “Loss is inevitable, but connection is enduring.” We began to weave our various threads around the concept – from wartime memories to the life cycle of the mushroom – around this statement, turning on the axis of Kouy and Roger’s father-son relationship. With this at the core, the film began to take shape.

RC: I know you have another great film about to be released, Audrie & Daisy, which I loved at SFIFF. It’s another film about community creation and advocacy after trauma. Can you tell us more about this film, and perhaps tell us about the themes that most motivate you to work on projects?

SD:  I feel very lucky to have been a producer on Audrie & Daisy, a documentary that tells the story of two high school girls growing up in different parts of America who both attend parties, pass out from intoxication, and are sexually assaulted by boys they consider friends. They are each bullied in the aftermath online and at school so relentless that they each attempt to take their own lives. Tragically, Audrie dies. The film follows Daisy over the course of her senior year and through her healing process, revealing a wider exploration of what it means to come of age in this new frontier of social media.

I am personally motivated to work on films that center on stories that examine psychological and sociological issues, but through the lens of personal experience. I believe that, by intimately getting to know a person or group of people on film, seemingly inaccessible and broad topics (such as war and sexual assault) become humanized. In doing so, it is my hope that audiences can connect deeply with the experiences they witness on-screen, thus opening up their minds and hearts to the possibility of understanding difference and struggles; as well as engaging in meaningful social change. 

RC:  Thank you!

(c) 2016, Ravi Chandra, M.D. F.A.P.A.

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