EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS
A Poet’s Meditation on Peace
A FILM BASED ON THE JOURNALS OF WILLIAM STAFFORD
Haydn Reiss (producer/director) has been making independent films for twenty years that often focus on writers and poets. As a producer for hire his clients include organizations working on the front lines of education, the environment, culture, human rights, politics and health. In 1998, Reiss directed the award-winning RUMI: Poet of the Heart, which was seen on over 100 PBS stations and screened in festivals around the world.
EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS tells the story of how one man, William Stafford (1914-1993), chose to answer the call to war. It is a story of confronting beliefs that swirl around war — Isn’t war inevitable? Even necessary? What about the enemy? Stafford refused to fight in World War Two and served four years in camps for conscientious objectors. Later he was the winner of the National Book Award for poetry.
Other participants appearing in the film include Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, John Gorka, Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael Meade, W.S. Merwin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kim Stafford, and Alice Walker.
Director Haydn Reiss first met Stafford in 1990 and later produced a one-hour documentary, William Stafford & Robert Bly: A Literary Friendship. That film chronicles the similarities and differences between these two close friends and great poets. Approaches to writing, teaching and the meaning of poetry are all explored in this lively and engaging film. (The film is included as a DVD extra on EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS)
Interview with Haydn Reiss:
Q: What’s the genesis of the film?
HR: In 2006, I read the book the film is based on and that was edited by his son Kim, “Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace & War” (Milkweed Editions 2004). It’s fifty years of excerpts from Bill’s journals related to war and reconciliation. As with all of Stafford’s writings, there is a sense of a deep intelligence at work that stays human and available to the reader. There’s humor, heartbreak and a general sense, or assertion, that we human beings are capable of doing better with each other. I’m a father of young children and I have to believe that’s true. More importantly, I had to try and make a contribution to that effort and that’s what I attempted with the film.
Q: How does the book differ from the film?
HR: Obviously there’s a lot more writing and poems in the book than the film. The challenge was to pull journal entries that could be arranged in some form or fashion and create an overall arc to the film. A beginning, middle and end has not been much improved upon in the world of storytelling. All the material could be endlessly mixed since there was no inherent order to it other than chronological. So mix it we did some untold number of times until the cylinders seemed to line up and my editor and I had something we liked. The film brings in its own ingredients of music, images and a remarkable collection of participants.
Q: What do you hope the film does for the viewer?
HR: It would be very satisfying to think that after viewing the film you would ask yourself, at a deep level, what you really believe about war. And the follow-up question of “How did I come to believe that?” I think we have been very successfully indoctrinated into accepting that war is a given, it’s what human beings do. The distinction is, and I think this is what Stafford is saying, is “Yes, we do and can make war. But what else can we do?” The undiscovered possibilities in human behavior are what we should pursue. The die is not cast; imagination and creativity are not in short supply. That this is the real, pragmatic work of the world.
Tags: Alice Walker, Coleman Barks, conscientious objector, documentary, film, Haydn Reiss, John Gorka, Kim Stafford, Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael Meade, Naomi Shihab Nye, peace, Poetry, Robert Bly, Rumi, W.S. Merwin, war, William Stafford