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Wounded warriors rising 

The Renaud brothers track Iraq veterans in the Paralympics.

click to enlarge WOUNDED WARRIORS: Turned Paralympians.
  • WOUNDED WARRIORS: Turned Paralympians.

Little Rock's hardest working filmmakers, Brent and Craig Renaud, continue to pull off an impressive slight of hand rarely seen in the world of documentary. They make films in the cinema verite mode (naturalistic, raw and without narration) with obvious agendas. Their 2005 HBO film “Dope Sick Love” was as gritty a portrayal of drug addiction that's been put to screen. Naturally, it's since been used in drug rehab centers across the country. Likewise, “Little Rock Central High: 50 Years Later,” made in 2007 also for HBO, provided a remarkably incisive look at the legacy of integration, not a small amount of which focuses on how far we have to go. 

Now, they're promoting “Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing,” a nakedly inspirational film that's just as honest as the Renauds' past work. It follows four Iraq War veterans, who, after losing limbs or suffering paralysis, strive to compete in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, the Renauds will present a special screening at Lakewood 8 in North Little Rock. Tickets are $100. Proceeds go to the Clinton School of Public Service Scholarship and to set up a scholarship at the Arkansas Community Foundation to benefit a veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan from Arkansas.

The brothers are still in negotiations for broader theatrical release and for DVD release, but this could be Central Arkansas's only chance to catch the film theatrically. You can purchase tickets via clintonschool.uasys.edu.

The idea for the film, according to Brent Renaud, grew out of “Off to War,” the Discovery series in which the brothers followed the 39th Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard from the beginning to the end of its deployment. Renaud said he and his brother took special interest in the soldiers who were injured in battle and noticed that one in particular, who'd taken up skiing and wheelchair volleyball, seemed to be adjusting to civilian life quicker than other soldiers who'd suffered similar injuries.

That took them to the Paralympics committee, which told them the prospect of any vets making the 2008 team, with such a short window in which to train, was unlikely. But the Renauds persisted, and got access to four thought to have the best chances: swimmer Melissa Stockwell, the first female American soldier to lose a limb in active combat; shot-putter Scott Winkler, paralyzed from the waist down; sprinter Kortney Clemons, who lost his leg to an IED; and discus and shot put thrower Carlos Leon, who survived his tour in Iraq only to break his neck in a diving accident within weeks of coming home. “Warrior Champions” tracks their unlikely story, which isn't always filled with triumph, but never ceases to provide testament to the power of resiliency and will. (Clemons and Stockwell will be in attendance at the Lakewood screening.)

The brothers approached the project as vehicle for change from the outset, according to Brent Renaud. They partnered with the Paralympics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, who're sponsoring a 12-city tour, where the brothers will take the film to veterans and disability groups. A clip of the film helped secure $10 million from Congress for the Paralympics; Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki later screened the film at a signing ceremony that established the partnership.

“There are 40,000 seriously injured soldiers,” said Brent Renaud. “I think it's important that people continue to remember. But at the same time this is a film meant to be a film about recovery.”

It's safe to say the film itself will play a role in recovery in the years to come.

 

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