USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION
PASSION PROJECTS Filmmaker and photographer Ming Lai, right, holds a photo album of images taken by Air Force veteran Gail Matthews, left.
returning to civilian life isn’t as easy as turning the page. Wars have left their mark on service members. And for thousands of veterans, these wars have turned into personal battles. Ming Lai, the filmmaker behind Visions of Warriors, threads the stories of war and rehabilitation in a way that non-veterans can relate to. The film, set to be released on Veterans Day (Nov. 11), knits together Lai’s longstanding interests in conflict, war and photography, creating a storyline aimed at understanding the complex layers that shape a military veteran. “Several years ago, while I was looking through a photography website, I came across an article about Susan Quaglietti and her Veteran Photo Recovery Project (VPRP),” Lai said. He’d been researching war trauma and photography while preparing to work on a narrative film about a photojournalist who had PTSD from his exposure to conflict and war. He was immediately intrigued. “Susan’s project was the exact opposite (of mine). She was using
photography as a way to heal PTSD. I immediately contacted her about doing a documentary about her project.” Quaglietti had been running the program alone since 2012 from the VA health facility in Menlo Park, Calif., where she has worked as a cardiology nurse practitioner for more than 35 years. She agreed to the documentary, eager to show Lai — and the rest of the world — that her innovative therapeutic intervention program has helped some veterans. For three years, Lai interviewed multiple veterans and others who worked with Quaglietti and VPRP: art therapist Jeff Stadler, clinical social worker Ryan Gardner and clinical psychologist Kristen McDonald. Sifting through hours of video, Lai crafted a film that he hopes will raise awareness about Quaglietti’s program and bring another recovery option to light. “We really wanted to create this diverse representation of the military veteran experience ... men and women of all different ages, all ethnicities, backgrounds, war conflict periods as well as badges