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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

It isn’t often that I critique and then recommend a book or movie about any war.  But, when I do run across a project that I know is significant and timely, I do try and expose the material to the readers of the Southern Utah Vets blog. 

In Saint George, Utah where I live there is an annual documentary film festival known as “Doc Utah”.  It’s a chance for film makers and writers to showcase their work and stimulate the emotional processes of their audiences.  This week in St. George there were about 100 of these documentaries that were dispersed among the few theaters in our area.  I viewed a dozen or less of these and the one that stood out in my mind as being the most relevant was a film called, “Souvenirs – Healing After War.”  It was produced by a woman named Mara Pelecis.

It’s a story about  Vietnam War veteran  Andy Pelecis, Mara’s father, who was from Latvia, came to the United States as a ‘sponsored foreigner’ to make a life here in Minnesota, and ended up enlisting in the Army early on in the war as he felt it was his duty.  One of the strange sub-stories to this film is that Andy actually went to Nam TOO early in the war … before it was even considered to be anything official (it never was a declared war as you all know).  But what this meant, ultimately, was the VA did not consider Andy Pelecis to be a “Vietnam Veteran” later on when he went after a compensable claim for PTSD.  And, he had PTSD!  Just ask his wife and two daughters, and anyone else who knew him.

In 2002 Andy took his own life.  His death was the driving force behind his daughter, Mara, to ask: How could my father survive the war, but not the peace afterwards?  Seeking to understand her father, Mara meets with veterans from all walks of life:  Rolling Thunder bikers, Vets for Peace, National Guard members and Native American veterans like Jim Northrup, a noted Native American author and Vietnam Veteran.  On this journey, she unearths the elusive layers of her father’s post-war inner world and discovers a kaleidoscope of paths to healing after the war.  “Souvenirs,” of course, are the mental trinkets that we all get to carry back home after going to any war.

Combining Andy Pelecis’ old “Bolex” film footage of himself as a young man and photographs from Vietnam, Mara Pelecis has done a noteworthy and outstanding job of documenting her entire families’ struggle that comes with living with a severely damaged military veteran.  This is a true story of the impact of war on a veteran and family that lasted decades.

Lyrical, intimate and sometimes humorous (although not often), Souvenirs is a moving eulogy in film.  Some of Andy Pelecis’ biggest fans were his buddies from the AA group that he met with over the many years after he quit drinking.  They were very sad to hear of Andy’s death.  Following her father’s suicide, Mara Pelecis’ camera reveals the 30-year history of her father’s mental illness, as his case is reopened by the VA.  The Pelecis family is bound and determined to win an Appeals case against the VA so that they will at least recognize the fact that Andy was, first, a Vietnam Veteran and, secondly, that he had PTSD in the most severe way possible.

In the end as she seeks to understand why her father was the way he was, Mara Pelecis finds healing in the lives and stories of other war veterans.  I highly recommend this film to anyone looking for the same kinds of answers.  Here are a couple of ways you can get to this project:

www.souvenirsdocumentary.com or info@souvenirsdocumentary.com

 

 

 

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