A Letter From Home
Sep 23, 2022
Spencer Legros & Alex Hinsch
Spencer Legros & Alex Hinsch
Jason Graven, Dave Sims, Adam Konrad
Inspirational and heart-breaking in equal measure, A Letter From Home is an astonishing documentary short from Spencer Legros and Alex Hinsch that combines the importance of family and the strength to recover from unimaginable pain – both mental and physical – in its chronicling of Task Force 20 – a fitness group for ex-military members.
The film tells the stories of a number of veterans. Primary focus is given to Jason Graven, the group’s founder – who escaped his troubled trailer-park upbringing by joining the military, only to find his life turned upside down when his child was given up for adoption against his will. With nowhere left to turn upon the end of his service, and facing the darkest times in his life, Jason, along with other ex-serviceman Dave Sims, Adam Konrad and Dave Gedman, turned to fitness to find structure and solace in life.
As it cracks open the very souls of its subjects, A Letter From Home is one of the most personal, intense and affecting documentaries of the year. Each of the servicemen featured has a remarkable story, and each’s journey would be film-worthy of themselves. With Jason Graven at its heart, the film acts as both the story of Task Force 20, and a recorded legacy made by a father for a daughter he has never met. Jason’s unflinching and honest testimony of his life captures the importance of the Task Force programme, and how he has managed to use his own tragedies to change the world for the better. There are few documentaries or films that manage to combine the stories of individuals and ideas better than Legros and Hirsch manage here – and the finale in which that of Jason’s life, and the significance of Task Force 20 are tied together, is bound to bring tears to viewer’s eyes.
To match its incredible storytelling, the film is crafted with imaginative and engaging imagery and production. There is a sense of momentum to the film, as it weaves through Jason’s troubled life to the present day. Photos from Jason’s youth merge into the man he has become in the present, edited in impressive and seamless fashion. The addition of inventive animations and recreations add life to the story, echoing dramatic portrayals – particularly in scenes such as Jason’s courtroom adoption hearing. The most striking scene in the film is that in which Dave Sims – a Vietnam veteran crippled by agent orange – musters all his strength just to take a few steps without his walker. The decision to drop the steady and ever-present beat of the film’s score makes the moment transcendent, and captures one of the film’s messages perfectly: that you never really know what battles someone else may be going through.
For a film that covers as much tragedy and melancholy as A Letter From Home does, it is remarkable that it manages to be one of the most uplifting films of the year. The story of Task Force 20 is story of redemption, reconciliation and recovery – which runs alongside those of the men who founded it. The emotional punch that Legros and Hinsch’s film packs is a force of its own.