Salute to Veterans

‘War Words’ film-adapted play brings veterans’ stories to the screen on Veterans Day

A playwright backed by a national think tank is looking to change the way civilians look at veterans by bridging the divide. The Atlantic Council will host a virtual screening of a film-adapted play featuring veterans' recollections of their military experiences on Veterans Day.

Veterans Day 2020” was adapted from the stage play “War Words,” and will air on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time with keynote remarks by Gen. David Petraeus. Organizers hope it will give people who have never served or who may not be acquainted with a veteran the opportunity to hear their stories presented in the prose of the theatre.

The play was written by Michelle Kholos Brooks, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Stowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and an award-winning playwright. “War Words” is based on Brooks' interviews with veterans and their families. The filmed adaptation premiering Veterans Day was produced in partnership with the Arena Stage theatre in Washington. It was directed by Seema Sueko, the theatre’s deputy artistic director.

“At some point, through a series of conversations, I realized that I had absolutely zero connection to the military,” Brooks told Military Times by video call on Monday. “I don’t know anyone who served in the military, I don’t have family members who served in the military and I just thought that seemed kind of crazy, as I considered myself to be this progressive person that knows people in all different factions of life.”

Brooks said she thought it would be interesting to meet people with different but real human experiences and bring their finely curated stories to the stage in a professional production.

Brooks' dream is to eventually have her play licensed for free and performed at theaters across the country on Veterans Day to raise money for veteran service organizations, much like what has been done with Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” on Valentines Day.

"Veterans Day 2020," a film adapted from the play "War Words," premieres on Veterans Day, 2020.

There have been a lot of plays produced on the military experience, Brooks said. They’re important to that community because of how healing they can be for veterans. “War Words” is different because it gives civilians the opportunity to meet veterans and hear the stories they wouldn’t have previously heard, Brooks said.

The event is part of the Council’s Forward Defense initiative, which uses the arts to help Americans better connect to and engage with American foreign defense policy and work to solve the country’s complex security issues.

Veterans Day 2020 was originally supposed to premiere live on stage, but the current coronavirus pandemic presented a significant challenge to that effort, said Steven Grundman, the film’s executive producer, an Army veteran and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, in a video call with Military Times on Monday.

The film will give people “a different kind relationship with veterans, with soldiers, with warriors — as I don’t mind calling them — than the one which popular culture is foisting upon us,” Grundman said.

Registration is not necessary — you can also watch it from the event page itself.

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