Not Yet Begun to Fight: How fly fishing helps heal a new generation of veterans

Blake Smith watches his line. Photo by Justin Lubke.

The Montana premiere of “Not Yet Begun to Fight”, a documentary focusing on five veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who suffered both physical and non-physical trauma while on active duty, will take place at the Emerson Theater on Oct. 24. In the film, the Wounded Warriors, as they are called, stay in the Gallatin Valley and learn how to fly fish for six days as part of Warriors and Quiet Waters, a project started by Eric Hastings. Hastings, a retired Marine Colonel, said, “Fly fishing is a constantly repeating series of occasions for hope.” The film focuses on those chances for a light at the end of what has clearly been a long, dark tunnel.

Eric Goodge contemplates the day. Photo by Justin Lubke

Sabrina Lee and Shasta Grenier directed and produced “Not Yet Begun to Fight.” They got the idea to create the documentary after viewing a short video promoting Warriors and Quiet Waters, immediately after which Lee and Grenier wanted to give the public the chance to see what many veterans experience upon arriving home.

The film pieces together the stories of the five men who participated in Warriors and Quiet Waters. Justin Lubke, an MSU alumnus, was Director of Photography for “Not Yet Begun to Fight.” He noted that in filming, “we absolutely tried to minimize our impact on the experience of the Wounded Warriors out of respect for what they were all going through,” and “most importantly, we just tried to build genuine relationships with the guys so that we became a positive part of their experience.”

Blake Smith after a great day on the river. Photo by Justin Lubke

The film does an excellent job of highlighting each man’s time in the Gallatin Valley without making the audience feel invasive. The balance of focusing on emotions without letting the audience wallow in sympathy demonstrates the care put into the film. “Despite such traumatic physical and psychological injuries, the subjects in the film often demonstrated an almost unfathomable optimism, and we wanted to show that,” Lee said.

The most fascinating aspect of the film focuses on a battle to which many of the Wounded Warriors hinted: the omnipresent question as to whether man is a beast at heart. In war, primal actions like killing and maiming others emphasize this “man as beast” concept, which has a subtle but important presence in the film. As Hastings says in the film, “combat taints your soul.”

At the same time, the film works to focus on an unbreakable optimism found in the veterans.  Lee described the task of making “Not Yet Begun to Fight” as a “privilege of telling a larger story about loss of identity, recovery and the resilience of the human spirit.”

The film is short, clocking in at about one hour, but poignant. A well-created documentary that stops in the right places and does a good job of showing many aspects of the human experience, including some that are not often seen.

“Not Yet Begun to Fight” will be shown at the Emerson Theater on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $10.