OUTSIDE THE WIRE
THURSDAY JULY 28th, 2011
Documentary filmmaker with Mid-Michigan roots aims spotlight on forgotten children of Afghanistan
This past June, the small town of Owosso hosted the Michigan premiere of “Outside the Wire: The Forgotten Children of Afghanistan,” a documentary shot on location in Afghanistan with U.S. Special Forces.
As the audience filed out of the theatre following the show, the chatter on the street was music to Anthony Hornus’ ears, because it was he who wrote, produced and directed the film.
“Everyone was commenting how the film brought them a complete new understanding of what U.S. and coalition forces were doing in Afghanistan. As a documentary film maker, to me, what could be better,” says Hornus, himself an Owosso native.
After the Owosso premier, Hornus told the local newspaper, the Argus Press, “I want people to walk away from the film with a good feeling knowing there are people working hard to give kids a chance in the world,” Hornus said. “And I want them to walk away with a different perspective on the war. You get bombarded every night with the bad stuff.”
Before moving into filmmaking, Hornus spent 33 years as a newspaper journalist. It was with a journalist’s nose for news that he honed in on this story.
“There’s an old saying in the news business, if it bleeds, it leads,” explains Hornus. “And that is all Americans are seeing on the coverage of the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
With his film, Hornus sets out to tell the story you don’t see on the network news. It’s the story of a grass roots effort by brave soldiers to bring help and hope to the people, especially the children, of this war-torn nation. Hornus describes the film as a hybrid documentary – part narration and part reporting.
Documentary viewers will witness the story behind the war. This is a story not being reported by traditional news outlets. U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers, as well as civilian contractors, are training Afghans in construction skills – overseeing the building of schools, housing, women’s shelters, bridges, dams, roads and water filtration plants.
The other component in this operation in Afghanistan is education. Hornus explains: “Afghans are learning 21st century skills in healthcare, computer technology, farming and animal husbandry.”
“This was the side of the military operation I knew nothing about,” says Hornus. “Our troops were being maligned. All we see on the news is casualties and firefighting. There is another side of this story I had to tell.”
“It was eye-opening to discover only 20 percent of the mission in Afghanistan centers on combat,” explains Hornus. “The rest of the mission is to empower the Afghans with our assistance.”
The phrase ‘outside the wire’ is military jargon for going offsite of the relatively safe confines of the base camp or support installation. The film takes the name “Outside the Wire” to reflect what U.S. troops and other security forces are accomplishing ‘outside the wire’ in their humanitarian aid efforts working with the Afghan people – especially the women and children.
“The idea that soldiers in Afghanistan are delivering humanitarian aid to areas so isolated and dangerous that even relief agencies won’t go was intriguing to me,” explains Hornus. Despite the dangers of confronting the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, U.S. and International Security Assistance Force soldiers were willing to go above and beyond the call of duty in the name of empowering Afghans, especially the women and children.
The 96-minute film takes viewers to places they’ve never seen in this ancient Muslim land. To capture the story, the crew was embedded with the 838th Military Police Company out of Youngstown, Ohio. The result is a deeply personal journey into Afghanistan with the soldiers.
The documentary is receiving glowing reviews. W. Clark Bunting, President and General Manager of The Discovery Channel, says the film tells “the truly heartwarming story of U.S. soldiers bringing relief aid to children, widows and refugees living in the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. Despite living ‘Outside the Wire,’ these children will charm you with their smiles, laughter and eternal optimism.
Hornus says the idea sparking the documentary came during a chance encounter with a teammate from his basketball playing days at Owosso High School in the 1970′s.
His old high school friend, Vic Kuchar, left Owosso for a military career. Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, U.S, Air Force Colonel Victor Kuchar has spent more than 900 days on the ground in the Middle East, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The chance meeting of Hornus and Col. Kuchar took place in an Owosso pub in 2007. When Hornus asked Kuchar the age-old question, ‘What have you been up to?’ His friend jumped from his chair and ran to get his laptop from his car. Over the next hour, he showed Hornus poignant, touching pictures of the children of Afghanistan.
“After just a few minutes of reuniting with my friend, it was apparent that the children of Afghanistan had stolen his heart,” says Hornus. “That’s when I made the decision to go see for myself what was happening in Afghanistan.”
Col. Kuchar told Hornus about Operation Care, a personal undertaking he founded five years before. This grass roots effort has grown into a trusted humanitarian aid program dedicated to serving the children, widows, orphans and refugees in Afghanistan.
Although Colonel Kuchar recruits schools, church groups, clubs and other groups from across the country to support Operation Care, the epicenter is his small childhood church, St. Joseph Parish, in Owosso. Over the past several years, parishioners have been collecting boxes and boxes of clothing, medical supplies, crutches, blankets and stuffed animals and mailing them off to Afghanistan. When the shipments arrive at military bases in Afghanistan, they are sorted and then distributed to those in need by US soldiers.
It was an eight-month long odyssey to receive military clearances, but it was worth the wait. Hornus and his adventurous crew received unprecedented access to live and travel with the military. The “Outside the Wire” team spent two weeks on missions with the Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team, another week in Kabul. The crew’s still photographer, Keith P. Lepor, spent an additional six months in Afghanistan.
Upon arriving in Afghanistan, Hornus says he immediately could see what motivates his old basketball teammate, Col. Kuchar. “I wasn’t prepared for that kind of poverty. Even so, in this war-torn country with mud huts and a lack of sanitary conditions, where there’s always the chance you can step on an explosive device left by a terrorist — children smile and play just like all kids around the world.”
Using state-of-the-art-equipment, the film crew interviewed soldiers, children, local officials and anyone else who could help tell the story. Completed in November, the non-political “Outside the Wire” is a final collaboration of several companies with deep Mid-Michigan roots.
Noting the tremendous amount of film talent based in Michigan, Anthony Hornus says he didn’t need to leave the state to hire collaborators. Hornus served as writer, producer and director. His company is called Scar Tissue Filmworks. Long-time friend and business partner, Dennis Therrian who operates a state-of-the-art studio in Mid-Michigan called Therrian Productions, Inc, served as editor, producer and composer. Gregg B. McNeill, who hails from Grand Rapids and now works out of Arlington, VA, is the project’s director of photography. Another Mid-Michigan based business owner, D.J. Perry, CEO of Collective Development Inc. is a producer on the film project.
The production team’s next hurdle is securing a distributor. “The documentary is geared for TV, rather than theater. We’re pitching it to cable and television networks and getting encouraging feedback,” says Hornus.
While the production team intends to sell distribution rights to television, Anthony Hornus and his business partner, Dennis Therrian retained theatrical rights and are working with veterans groups, church groups or any group of 100-300 to arrange public screenings through their production company: Red, White and Blue Productions. They are partnering with the Wounded Warrior Project, a national non-profit whose mission is to aid and empower American veterans critically wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and will donate 10-20 percent of net proceeds, from every screening, to the veterans’ group. For more information, contact Anthony Hornus at 517-719-4635 or Dennis Therrian at 517-622-3663.
Although the right television distribution deal is not yet secured, the film is getting noticed. Michelle Dix, lead producer of the Oprah Winfrey Network, praises the film as “gritty, yet a beautiful and passionately told ‘war story’ of hope by some gutsy filmmakers.”
Hornus calls his trip to Afghanistan one of the best experiences of his life. “It gives me hope to know we can win hearts and break the cycle of war and violence by educating the young.”