CARBONDALE - There was no red carpet out Sunday evening, but Barbara Trent and her Oscar seemed quite at home at Gaia House in Carbondale for a showing of "Soldiers Speak Out," a documentary directed by Trent and David Kasper.
The Academy Award was presented for an earlier documentary the two produced, "The Panama Deception."
Trent, who spent years as an activist student and community organizer in Southern Illinois, now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., where she works with the Empowerment Project, to teach others how to find a voice through film.
She was in Carbondale to attend a reunion of those who founded Synergy, a community organization that formerly was housed in a geodesic dome just north of Gaia House. The dome was razed and has been replaced with a labyrinth and garden.
Trent's newest film features American veterans who have been to war and now are vocal in their opposition to the conflict in Iraq, as well as Vietnam veterans speaking out on their experiences. Just a half-hour in length, the tightly edited documentary features men, women, blacks, whites, all describing their combat experience and subsequent disillusionment.
"I had to say something" or the truth would not be told about the Iraq war, one female Iraq veteran said. A Vietnam vet notes that recruits are stripped of everything - even their underwear - and have to lose their selves to become soldiers. "You have to play the game," he said.
"The Iraqis didn't want us in their country," another vet said. Others of the 17 veterans featured talked of coming home with massive depression, alcohol abuse, preoccupation with guns, and a "hyper-vigilance" that one said "takes over and turns you into another person."
Most who were signed up by recruiters said they'd been lied to with promises of a free education, adventure and travel. The reality, they found, is that they become trained killers. "It was all a con," one said of the recruiter's pitch.
One of the biggest "cons," Trent said, is use of "stop loss" orders, which means the initial discharge date agreed to when troops enlist can be cancelled and they can be called back with their units.
Trent said the military now requires schools to make personal information on students available for those recruiters. She urged parents to sign "opt out" forms so student information isn't given to the recruiters.
To counteract the recruiters' influence, Trent has made copies of the film available to be shown in schools and suggested those in the audience could do that locally.
When an audience member suggested Trent use Facebook to give more information on "opt out" and other issues about the military, and also to raise awareness of her documentaries, Trent balked.
"I'm almost 64," she said with a laugh. "I've been dragged by the hair into the technological age. I e-mail, I have a website, but I don't do Facebook."
When audience member Mary Sullivan volunteered set up a Facebook page to spread the word, though, Trent agreed.
She's not a technophobe; evolving technology has made the process of filmmaking inexpensive with use of digital equipment, she said. She said she currently is working on a documentary about end-of-life issues and Kasper is working on a film about the United States "becoming, increasingly, a security state."
The Carbondale screening was sponsored by The Peace Coalition of Southern Illinois, Gaia House and the Empowerment Project. DVDs of Trent's films were available for $15, or $10 for those who would rather pay the lesser amount. A freewill offering also was taken, to be shared by the three groups.
Trent spent time mingling with old friends and new acquaintances at an outdoor reception.
She greeted former Makanda neighbor and longtime friend Stella Rowan warmly.
Among other acts of friendship, "she edited my thesis for spelling and punctuation," Trent said. Rowan said Trent "just can't spell."
More information on the Empowerment Project can be found at www.empowermentproject.org