Review: Iwo Jima Diary

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This 61-minute documentary isn't yet available to the public, but should be sometime in 2003. The filmmakers, Michael Pfaendtner and Tom Coulter, decided to do a documentary about WWII veteran Edward "Mort" Denell, a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima - Coulter is Mort's grandson. Mort's tales of the time leading up to the battle of Iwo Jima, during the battle and the end of it fascinated the filmmakers and they set out to make a documentary of Mort's experiences. What makes this different is that Mort documented what happened to him in a journal, not only to while away the time, but to keep him sane.

The journal sat in a closet after the war, for 50 years. In 1995, he persuaded his family to help him document what happened to him during WWII. As he looked over his journal entries, the battle came back to him in vivid detail. He began drawing the cartoons to illustrate his memories and soon he had over 300 cartoons, along with over 160 typewritten pages in addition to his journal.

It isn't explained, in the documentary or on the accompanying web site, how the filmmakers came to do the documentary, especially since one of them is his grandson. It might be better if they promoted that more when the documentary is officially released and on the web site.

During the documentary, the 84-year-old veteran is easy to listen to as he recounts his experiences, mixing the cartoons Mort drew with historical footage of the fierce battle at Iwo Jima.

There are some humorous stories Mort tells, as well as those that are gruesome and heartbreaking. It brings the battle closer to the viewer, as it comes direct from someone who was there and who can retell it vividly and accurately.

The most suprising thing, which I hadn't really heard much about, was the raising of a flag at Kitano Point, on the other end of Iwo Jima by Mort and his Lieutenant Charles Sockett at the end of the battle. Copies of the article about this that ran in Yank magazine are noted in Iwo Jima Diary and clearly shows this was a historical event that should be remembered as much as the famous flag raising on Mt. Suribachi.

It was hard to get "into" this documentary at the beginning - Mort is interviewed in a room that has wood paneling with no adornments. This makes the documentary seem almost amateurish - at least a map of Iwo Jima or some of Mort's cartoons should have been hanging on the wall. The sound is not the best quality, but that may have been because I was given a review copy of the VHS version of the documentary, not the finished version. The music in the soundtrack fits the documentary very well (The only other gripe I have is the current cover art - it needs to be finetuned a bit to make it more polished.

These are very minor faults for what is otherwise an educational and gripping journey into the mind of a WWII vet who experienced the war in a way that is unusual from other veterans - through his cartoons.

For more information on when Iwo Jima Diary will become available to purchase, visit the very well-done web site.

The documentary will be shown on March 23rd in Michigan at the 6th Annual East Lansing Film Festival. Ticket information is available on that web site.