directed by Jon Alpert, Ellen Goosenberg Kent
USA 2007


For the first time in history, 90% of wounded American soldiers survive their injuries. This represents a triumph of modern medicine, but also means that thousands of badly wounded soldiers are returning to adapt to a very different and very difficult life. The film has a simple purpose: to tell the stories of ten American veterans of the current Iraq war who have been badly injured physically and/or psychologically.

The film’s design is simple too. Executive producer and on-screen interviewer James Gandolfini is usually only glimpsed from behind as he interviews each soldier who sits in a chair situated against a black background. The documentary is not visually stunning, but the design focuses everything on the soldiers and the stories they tell. Each soldier talks about his or her “Alive Day,” the day each of them “should” have been killed, but managed to survive through equal parts sheer willpower and medical. Many of the soldiers celebrate their Alive Day as a second birthday; however, one man can’t understand why he’s supposed to memorialize the worst day of his life.

“Alive Days” also employs footage from embedded cameras, and makes sparing use of some insurgent released video. A disclaimer at the open of the film warns viewers about the insurgent-released material for those who may be offended. However, most of the film simply consists of the veterans sitting down one by one to tell their frightening stories. In some cases, the story is embellished by uplifting tales of how they have managed to triumph over adversity. For others, unfortunately, the news is almost universally grim, especially for the men and women suffering from brain injuries and post-traumatic disorder; without physical wounds, they don’t necessarily receive the same support or sympathy as other wounded vets, but their suffering is just as severe.

The minimalist approach serves the material well, though I felt the film lingered far too long on lurid details of amputations, particularly the way that wounded soldiers spotted their now-missing limbs in unexpected places. Nonetheless, “Alive Day Memories” is a fitting tribute to the army of wounded created by the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq.

Christopher Long

Theatrical Release: Sep 9, 2007 (U.S. TV - HBO)

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DVD Review: HBO Home Video - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Christopher Long for the Review!

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HBO Home Video

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 57 min

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles none (closed captions)
Features Release Information:
Studio: HBO Home Video

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterboxed - 1.78:1

Edition Details:

DVD Release Date: October 23rd, 2007
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Chapters 12




The image quality varies with the different source material. The interview footage is crisp while some of the embedded video and especially the insurgent released video is of poor quality. The transfer is more than adequate to do justice to the documentary’s simple visual design.

The DVD is as bare bones as the film’s design: no extras, not even a trailer. Chapter breaks correspond to each soldier’s story.

 - Christopher Long


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HBO Home Video

Region 1 - NTSC


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