THE HIKE BACK, 60min., USA, Documentary
Directed by Ronnie Francisco Gonzalez
For many of America's Veterans, the toughest battle begins when they come home. As a result, what started as a suicide crisis within the Military has become a full-blown silent epidemic claiming untold numbers. The Hike Back is the story of Irreverent Warriors, a free-spirited and unique organization started by Veterans for Veterans – their mission is to end Veteran suicide. The crazy thing? Where pills and therapy are failing, they are succeeding. The Hike Back is the story of raw and broken Veterans turning the tide -- one hike at a time.
This project has hit home in so many fundamental ways. I am not the same person I was when I began, not the same veteran, not the same filmmaker. I hope for those who are curious about the struggle of the modern warfighter, this film will give you insights into a community of people who go through life bearing invisible wounds. Worse, they go through life post-service with the distinct impression people resent their wounds and would rather "look away than engage." This has to change. This is my contribution to that change.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
Several things. I am a Veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. So I instantly identified with the cause of these Veterans and was already a big fan of their organization. Having studied film, I had already made some little films here and there, but this felt entirely too meant to be. When they approached me to tell their story, it was a no-brainer.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
About a year and a half. It would have been much faster, except I had to wait for weeks at a time from one hike to the next, not to mention I was basically an Army of one on the post-production side.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The emotional toll it took on me was surprisingly heavy. I thought I understood these struggles but watching strong men and women fall apart and recounting their lowest moments often left me drained.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
It was incredibly encouraging to see the film connect with Civilians. I always knew it would connect with Veterans but witnessing the audience express their emotional connection to the narrative was a huge morale boost. I couldn’t stop smiling for a while.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
When I realized words were not enough to express what War does to all of us. Not just the Soldier but even society.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
A surprisingly tricky question! I think the Lord of the Rings trilogy has the cumulative win. I don’t think I have ever experienced the same level of thrill in a cinema as the first time I watched the battle of helms deep in a theater!
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
I think you’re already well on your way to having one of the best festival experiences. I can’t think of what I would “add,” but I gotta say, don’t take anything away!
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How have your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
It’s pretty intuitive and can be accomplished in one afternoon with some research.
10. What is your favorite meal?
Anything Cuban (I struggle without my Grandmother’s homecooked meals)
11. What is next for you? A new film?
Chasing a new story! There’s so much to be done in this community and no lack of fertile storytelling grounds!