THE SHORT LIFE OF JOSE ANTONIO GUTIERREZ (Heidi Specogna) Rating: NNN
When you hear that this is the story of the first soldier killed in the current war in Iraq, you expect the film to be a condemnation of the war. Instead it's a damning indictment of an immigration policy that allows non-citizens the chance to die for a country not yet theirs and a bleak look at the poverty and desperation that make that chance look attractive.
Jos Antonio Gutierrez was a so-called green-card soldier who, just hours after the war began, became the first American casualty. We're shown two photos, one of Gutierrez as a street kid in Guatemala and the other in his Marine dress uniform. In interviews with social workers, foster families and fellow soldiers, director Heidi Specogna traces his route from one photo to the other.
The most effective scenes by far show others trying to make the same escape. The interviews with Gutierrez's friends and family, while moving, don't tell us much about him except that he was an exceptionally canny and charming kid.
Still, the testimony of women who've abandoned their families and men who'll risk getting shot in the U.S. military beautifully illustrates that, although dying in Iraq wasn't his plan, Gutierrez felt a soldier's life was better than what he left behind. (August 17-22, Bloor)