For Memorial Day, PBS goes to ‘Hell and Back Again’

For the week of Memorial Day, PBS is bringing the Oscar-nominated film, Hell and Back Again, to millions of Americans—an important way to share the harsh realities of military service with a nation that largely has turned away from our ongoing war effort. The documentary, which shows Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris both serving in Afghanistan and at home later as a disabled veteran, was nominated as a Best Documentary in this year’s Academy Awards.

Where can you see the film?
PBS’s Independent Lens series plans to air the film both Monday May 28 and again on Thursday May 31. However, the series is not carried on all PBS affiliates—and stations that do air the series often repeat films at unusual times. Check the PBS website for Indpendent Lens (and click on the “TV Schedule” link at the top of the page) for local showtimes in your region.
The film also is available, now, in both DVD and Blu-ray. Amazon lists Hell and Back Again on DVD, and that Amazon listing page also offers a Blu-ray option. Right now, you can watch a 2-minute preview of the film, below.

ReadTheSpirit is not alone in recommending this powerful documentary.
Here are some other critics’ viewpoints:

The New York Times calls Hell and Back Again “astonishing” and says the film “is a tour de force that breaks new ground in the documentary tradition, combining chilling reportage with sometimes dreamy or drugged-up sequences. The film—with clinical precision—peels away the daily headlines to expose the reality of the Afghan war and the devastating burden carried by American service members back home.”

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert says the film is a new kind of documentary, partly because high-tech new cameras allowed Dennis to move with troops through actual battles in Afghanistan. But the film also breaks ground because of the sensitive way it tells Sgt. Harris’ story both while he is leading soldiers—and while he is going through rehab as a veteran with injuries to his hip and leg. Ebert writes that viewers will like Harris instantly: Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris is a natural leader of men. We sense that during the extraordinary combat footage in “Hell and Back Again,” not because he behaves heroically or makes eloquent speeches, but because he knows his job and believes in it. He’s in his mid-20s, sometimes looks and sounds younger, and yet his sense of mission carries him forward and we understand why men would follow him into danger. He seems to be a good man, brave, uncomplicated.


Click on the video screen to watch a 2-minute preview of the documentary by Danfung Dennis. (NOTE: If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, click this link to reload our story in your web browser.)


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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.


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