2,700-mile walk from Milwaukee covers more than redemption
War veterans, director join in talkback at Oriental

By: TOM JOZWIK - TimeOut Film Critic

October 6, 2016


Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson in “Almost Sunrise.”

Credit: Thoughtful Robot Productions

MILWAUKEE - An ex-military man from Milwaukee, a subject of a documentary film, dispensed advice from the Landmark Oriental Theatre stage Sunday, following  the second of the documentary’s two local screenings during the Milwaukee Film Festival.

If you ever decide to walk from Milwaukee to California, Anthony Anderson told a virtually full Sunday afternoon house, you should “get good shoes” and “get good socks.”

Anderson was speaking from experience. As the saying goes, he walked the walk, covering 2,700 miles during a five-month span three years ago and visiting more than 100 cities in the process. That herculean journey, undertaken with friend and fellow veteran from Milwaukee Tom Voss, is at the heart of the documentary, which is titled “Almost Sunrise” and had its debut as a prizewinning entry at the well-known Telluride Mountainfilm Festival in May. “Almost Sunrise” will be telecast nationally in 2017, as part of the “POV” series on PBS.

The Milwaukee-to-California journey’s purpose: to clear the ex-soldiers’ psyches in the aftermath of their service in Iraq. They also raised funds for Dryhootch, a nonprofit dedicated to helping returning vets. A “spiritual odyssey” for Anderson and Voss, is the way the movie’s publicists put it, adding that the subjects, while battling post-traumatic stress disorder, “are simultaneously dealing with an unseen battle scar called ‘Moral Injury’ - often manifested as an extreme brand of guilt and shame that arises when one goes against one’s own moral code” (by terrorizing apparent innocents, for example, or ignoring wounded persons in need of help). This “scar” is not controlled by medication and could become “the signature war wound of our generation.”

Voss joined Anderson and the film’s director, erstwhile Emmy nominee Michael Collins, onstage at the Oriental.

For the walkers, both of them working with veterans these days, the 2013 trip to the Golden State was a considerable part - but by no means the conclusion - of a redemptive process.

“It’s a constant process,” Anderson informed his Milwaukee audience. “You have to remain vigilant. I constantly try to remind myself of the good things that happened” on the way from Milwaukee to California. Those positives included his “seeing the good in people again,” Anderson said, adding that, “for the most part, people have been incredibly supportive.” A husband and father, Anderson cited writing, communing with nature and involvement with Veterans Trek (an offshoot of the ‘13 walk) as ways of being “vigilant.” According to information online, Veterans Trek “provides peer to peer treks for veterans seeking time, healing and camaraderie.” 

Voss is now based in Washington, D.C.; from that home port he travels the nation, offering therapeutic help to vets. Said Voss from the stage regarding Anderson and himself, “Both of us really believe in peer-to-peer” guidance. Onscreen, his girlfriend recalled Voss’ “detachment,” drinking, and hollering out in the night at a time when he was apparently without such guidance.

A 98-minute production designated as the MFF’s “centerpiece film” for 2016, “Almost Sunrise” begins by alternating home movie footage from Voss’ childhood with wartime footage of him in Iraq. Additionally, scenes of Milwaukee are followed by city scenes from Iraq. There are clips from television newscasts and the funeral of a Marine who took his own life. A startling statistic is presented: 22 U.S. veterans die daily by their own hand. That statistic was the seed for the documentary, director Collins indicated at the Oriental.

“The editing was really difficult,” Collins said in response to a question from the audience. “It was tough. (Anderson and Voss) had so many amazing experiences” - and the cinematographer ended up with 400 to 500 hours of footage.

But then, all’s well that ends well. “It was a very powerful film,” a patron said in prefacing another question at the Oriental. “So thank you.”