The Hudson Valley Programmers’ Group will hold three special screenings of Bordering on Treason, a film by Trish Dalton documenting photojournalist Lorna Tychostup’s many trips to Iraq over the past decade. The single mother of two initially went to put a face on the enemy when it seemed, back in 2003, that the US government was determined to bomb that country for tenuous reasons. Unprotected and unsanctioned, she traveled as an American citizen with the hope of convincing people back home that we shouldn’t go to war. Of course, we did anyway. Over the ensuing years, Tychostup returned many times with evolving goals in mind, always intent on reporting the truth about what was happening there on the ground, and to maintain contact with the people whom she had met.
Dalton and a small crew of filmmakers originally intended to document the emergent conflict by focusing on three subjects: a peace activist, a young Marine and Tychostup. Tychostup traveled to the Middle East with two other local women under the umbrella of Voices in the Wilderness, venturing into the political hot spot to meet everyday Iraqis who would surely be caught up in the violence if war was waged against their leader, Saddam Hussein. As time went on and most participants of the film project dropped out for one reason or another – Dalton calls it “war fatigue – it became clear to her that the real subject of the documentary was Tychostup, the impassioned one who “put her heart on the line and brought this war home.”
Tychostup’s collection of photos, exhibited by the American Friends Service Committee’s “Eyes Wide Open” and other venues, captured the humanity behind the faces of young and old Iraqi citizens, many of whom tentatively opened their hearts and homes to the photographer. “We’d be walking around in the squatter camps,” she says, “and they would want to see the camera and have their pictures taken, and we’d engage in conversation. We just established friendships.”
On later forays to Iraq, she focused on visiting US military units, where she was able to photograph the men and women putting their lives on the line daily. Through her dedication to challenge our polarized thinking on complex issues – like why some Iraqis actually seemed to love George Bush – she faced her own prejudices for and against political factions and came to embrace a level of perspective in her work that transcends “isms” of all sorts.
Tychostup has since finished a MA in International Relations and the Middle East from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, and currently works as a Communications and Outreach consultant for US Agency for International Development-funded development projects. “The Iraqis are highly educated. They’re brilliant. In a project I worked on for a year, we trained civil servants how to run the government: everything from project management to how to use a computer to budget evaluation. One of the educators I spoke to said, ‘Listen, we have all this. We just haven’t had the updates.’”
Now working on a written account of her experiences there, she says, “I have an insider’s perspective. I’ve experienced every slice of the pie of Iraq. I’ve been there as a journalist, as a civilian, as a civilian contractor.”
When asked why she returned so often and why she liked being there, Tychostup explains, “I was riding on the cusp of history: … able to experience something, and then watch it on the news and know the real story… And to watch a country emerging, a whole society creating itself…adults coming out from under rocks…how could you not love that?”
Bordering on Treason premiered at DOC NYC in November and has been screened at other venues since, winning Best Short Documentary for 2013 at the Big Apple Film Festival. In February it will be included in the Pasadena International Film & New Media Festival. Dalton talks about approaching international distributors and being told by them, “Nobody in the US did not want war.” Clearly, the global tragedy that continues to play itself out in the lives of people on all sides of the conflict needs documentation and further study. “My goal for the film?” says Dalton. “I feel everybody in high school and college should see it.”
Tychostup says, “I think the film can be incredibly healing. This country was sold a story we’d all rather forget. For military people, I think it’s important. I love the military and have a very healthy respect for them. They should see what was happening; it’s important to have that recap. If my part of the story can inspire other people to do anything they wouldn’t have done before, that’s a good thing. I took a lot of risks, but I was inspired all along the way, especially by other women I’ve come across. I wouldn’t change a minute. Even the negative stuff – it’s helped me grow. I’m so grateful, and I could not have done it without this community.”
The film, made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts, will be presented on Sunday, January 26 at 1 p.m. at Upstate Films in Woodstock; on Monday, January 27 at 7:15 p.m. at the Downing Film Center in Newburgh; and on Tuesday, January 28 at 7:15 p.m. at the Rosendale Theatre in Rosendale. Dalton and Tychostup will be on hand for a question-and-answer session after each screening.
Bordering on Treason screenings, Sunday, January 26, 1 p.m., Upstate Films, 132 Tinker Street, Woodstock, $10/$6, (845) 679-6608, https://upstatefilms.org; Monday, January 27, 7:15 p.m., $8.50/$7.50, Downing Film Center, 19 Front Street, Newburgh, (845) 561-3686, www.downingfilmcenter.com; Tuesday, January 28, 7:15 p.m., $7/$5, Rosendale Theatre, 408 Main Street, Rosendale, (845) 659- 8989, https://rosendaletheatre.org.