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Spotlight: A Combat Veteran Overcomes Trauma as a Farmer

By David Schonauer   Wednesday May 24, 2017


Alex Sutton is looking for a new life as a farmer.

Sutton, a three-tour Iraq war veteran who received a medical retirement from the U.S. Army, is forging a new identity as a farmer, hatching chicks and raising goats on 43 acres in rural North Carolina. But he cannot shake the lingering trauma of war, and his world cycles between states of heightened awareness and feeling “zombified” from a cocktail of prescription drugs meant to keep him stable.

Sutton’s story is told in the documentary Farmer/Veteran, debuting on PBS’s Independent Lens series on Memorial Day, May 29. See a trailer for the documentary below. See other clips at the Independent Lens web page.

The film comes from co-director Jeremy M. Lange, a Pro Photo Daily and Motion Arts Pro reader, and co-director Alix Blair. “Alex suffers from chronic PTSD and we believe the film offers some new perspective on that condition and what it takes to cope with and try to mediate PTSD symptoms, both for the individual and their caregivers,” says Lange.

“For the viewer, as for Alex, what to believe about his past is uncertain,” notes the documentary’s producers. “The farm becomes a terrain to unearth what is buried, what it really means to be the perfect soldier and where to find the way forward.”

Here is more from the producers about the background of the documentary:


“The filmmakers originally set out to make a film that explored the therapeutic potential of agriculture for wounded combat veterans, and were excited to tell the story of how Alex Sutton was finding new purpose and healing. But as the seasons changed, it became clear that Alex couldn’t keep ahead of the work on the farm — or his own inner demons. The stories he told of his past conflicted with his military records, and with his own physical body. The filmmaker’s focus shifted to trying to understand why.

“Mental health professionals they consulted cautioned that recovery from trauma is painfully slow and non-linear, and that the stories trauma survivors tell themselves have a powerful place in recovery — for better or worse. ‘So we made room for Alex’s own complicated truth and came to understood far more in return,’ said Blair and Lange. ‘We want this film to call out our social responsibility to Alex, to all veterans returning home, that we must share in the burden of the long after-war. We do this by making time and space to receive their stories, compassionately meeting them wherever they are in their journey.’”

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