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Silverdocs Documentary FF

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival taking place June 21-27, 2010 at the AFI Silver Theater


Secrets And Lies: The Pat Tillman Story


It is one of the defining news stories of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars….when all-star football player Pat Tillman walked away from a multi-million dollar contact with the Arizona Cardinals in May 2002 to join the Army, he became an instant symbol of patriotic fervor following the events of 9-11. However, when his promising future ended in unexpected and unnecessary tragedy, the Tillman family refused to accept the “official” story being offered by the military and political establishment and set out to find the truth behind the young man’s untimely death.


At first, the military brass spun a tale of heroism under fire, putting forward the story that Tillman had been shot by Taliban insurgents. However, documents were later leaked showing that the young man had actually been downed by his fellow troops, in an incident known in the military as “friendly fire”. Although the top military brass and the George W. Bush political administration were made aware of this through secret memos, they played up Tillman’s story as a justification for the war and as a recruitment incentives for other young men to follow.


This story of secrets and lies is masterfully told in THE TILLMAN STORY by American director Ami Bar-Lev, which served as the Closing Night Gala for the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival on Saturday evening at the AFI Silver Theater. The film, which is being distributed in North America by The Weinstein Company, offers an invaluable lesson of media manipulation by the masters of “spin” in both the military and the Bush administration and how one family sought out and ultimately exposed the lies.


The film presents not only a complex portrait of Tillman, a jock with a patriotic but not cookie cutter take on politics and morality, but also shows how the powers that be can bend the truth for their own propaganda purposes. The film features candid and revelatory interviews with Tillman’s fellow soldiers and his family, cutting through the layers of artifice and calling to task the entire chain of command who contributed to the web of lies and deception.

While not questioning Tillman’s commitment, the director offers a more human portrait of a young man still in the throes of finding himself, while also offering an unsettling meditation on what constitutes true patriotism and heroism under fire. The film will certainly be one of the most controversial documentaries of the year, a perfect sidebar to another Festival highlight, the Tim Heterhington-Sebastian Junger you-are-there documentary of the Afghan war, RESTREPO.

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor


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About Silverdocs Documentary FF

Sandy Mandelberger
(International Media Resources)

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, taking place at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland from June 21 to 27, 2010.

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