Where Soldiers Come From and Heather Courtney at the Johnson Center Cinema on 9/11

The Dilemmas of Coming Home

by Chelsea Rugg, GMU FAMS Coordinator

Where Soldiers Come From and Heather Courtney at the Johnson Center Cinema on 9/11

On the evening of September 11, 2013, George Mason University’s Honors College and Film and Media Studies hosted a screening of the documentary Where Soldiers Come From, followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Heather Courtney and documentary subject Dominic Fredianelli.

The screening served as the concluding event for GMU’s 9/11 Day of Observance, a daylong event honoring those who lost their lives 12 years ago. Following a day of community service projects, students, faculty, and members of the community gathered in the Johnson Center Cinema to watch a film exploring the reasons young men and women have for joining the military, the risks they take throughout deployment, and the struggles they face upon returning home.

Where Soldiers Come From focuses on three friends from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula -– Dominic Fredianelli, Cole Smith, and Matt “Bodi” Beaudoin -- who join the National Guard as a way to go to college and maintain their identity as a group. Courtney follows them through military training, their deployment in Afghanistan in 2008 (where they're tasked with finding improvised explosive devices [IEDs]), and their eventual return to their lives back home. At the same time, she films the people the soldiers left behind, their families and friends in Michigan, still working at their jobs, skyping with their boys, and hoping against hope that everyone will come home safely. The film details how the experiences of going to war and staying at home both lead to struggles and rewards, as well as profound changes in expectations and desires. The film shows how both Bodi and Dom suffer from traumatic brain injury; in addition to their emotional and physical ordeals, all three friends must contend with the difficulties of the VA bureaucracy. As Dom returns to his work as an artist, he finds a possible means to recovery. 

After the screening, Heather and Dom took the stage and answered questions from the audience, which included students, professors, and community members. They asked about the filmmaking process, the effects and current status of Dom's artwork, how the film has affected Heather and Dom's lives, and where they are now. Dom revealed that he is currently studying at Corcoran College of Art and Design. Over the last few years, he has focused on using art as a tool for veterans’ healing upon their returns home.

This part of the story resonated especially with the war veterans in the audience, young men who had deployed in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, as well as other recent conflict zones. A couple of these veterans discussed their own experiences, and commended the film for its accurate, sensitive portrayal of the difficulties faced by soldiers and veterans on coming home.

The screening of Where Soldiers Come From served as a fitting conclusion to honor not only those who lost their lives on 9/11, but also those who continue to give their lives in service of their country.

Where Soldiers Come From and Heather Courtney at GMU was sponsored by the Honors College and Film & Media Studies, and co-sponsored by Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University Life, and the Everlasting Life Cafe. 

For more information, please contact

Kevin Stoy kstoy@gmu.edu Living Learning Community (LLC) Coordinator, Honors College

Cynthia Fuchs cfuchs@gmu.edu Director, Film & Media Studies