The Tillman Story
Documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev (left) is interested in myths – modern-day myths. His riveting documentary “The Tillman Story” opens on August 20. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bar-Lev to discuss this important new film.
Pat Tillman was a well-known, and well paid, football player for the Arizona Cardinals. In 2002 he left football to join the Army Rangers. On April 22, 2004 he was killed fighting in Afghanistan.
The official report on Tillman’s death said he was killed fighting the Taliban while he charged up a hill yelling, “Let’s take the fight to the enemy,” a claim which, Bar-Lev told me, just happened to coincide with President Bush’s talking point, “Let’s fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them here.” Tillman was awarded the silver star and the country was told a myth that it needed to hear. “He’s almost like a Jesus Christ figure, who dies for the rest of us and who sacrifices for the rest of us,” Bar-Lev explained concerning the image that the media and public have projected onto Tillman. “He becomes like a proxy for the rest of us who all talked about collective duty and shared sacrifice after 9/11 and then forgot about it after three or four weeks. We need him to have done what he did for these grandiose reasons,” Bar-Lev continued.
Five weeks later the official story changed. The military said Tillman was killed by an American bullet during the confusion of battle termed “the fog of war.” The military said Tillman would still keep his silver star for his bravery. They hoped this would be a footnote and that any questions about Tillman’s death would go away.
The government did not count on the determination of the Tillman family to uncover the truth, which the government tried to conceal while simultaneously having the hubris to use Tillman’s death as “all American hero, football star” propaganda to promote the war. Bar-Lev pointed out that Tillman, “never said anything about why he enlisted. He never contributed to the narrative…He’s a kind of a silent guy who we project our stories onto.” Among other things, the family uncovered strong evidence that the government and military knew all along that Tillman was killed by his own men, yet lied, saying that he was killed by the enemy. Bar-Lev added, “There’s two kind of myths there. The family was interested in undoing both to the degree they could: getting to the bottom of who he (Pat) was and getting to the bottom of how he died.”
“The Tillman Story” has been expertly edited balancing three story threads: Tillman’s biography, his family’s search for the truth about his death and the public and media’s lionization of Pat Tillman. The three strands inform and enhance one another, creating a film that is a compelling, observant and infuriating story about the myths that we sometimes need to create and hear. As Stan Goffs, a retired special opps soldier interviewed in the documentary, says, “If you want the public to co-sign something, you have to give them something to co-sign.”
The Tillman Story, director Amir Bar-Lev,
Weinstein Company, 94 minutes