WHERE TO WATCH
War Zone/Comfort Zone is airing on PBS stations across the country.
Visit American Public Television’s War Zone/Comfort Zone program page and enter your zip code to see where the show is airing near you.
Visit the PBS World Channel’s War Zone/Comfort Zone page to watch the show online. You can also find local listing information.
A Connecticut Public Television and Squidface Films co-production, WAR ZONE/COMFORT ZONE tells a groundbreaking story of activism and persistence in the face of tragedy—about military and civilian women banding together to create something—-that has been largely unknown to the general public. With footage from intense public meetings as well as in-depth portraits of women veterans on the verge of homelessness, the documentary is both raw and intimate. It charts the struggle of one small group to create something completely new: a transitional, supportive house for homeless women veterans in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
War Zone/Comfort Zone was nominated for a New England Emmy for Outstanding Documentary.
The story begins in the Spring of 2010. The Bridgeport Zoning Board of Appeals turned down a bid to rezone a big yellow house for use by homeless women veterans. The majority of the neighbors celebrated. Unfortunately, this rejection was nothing new to the the two women at the heart of the effort to establish the state’s first transitional, supportive house for women: Shalini Madaras, whose son was was killed in Iraq in 2006, and Joy Kiss, who runs an established transitional house for men in the city. By that time, they had been searching for a house for the past two years. “I’m a gold star mother,” Shalini said after the Board rendered its decision. “This will happen.” But the future of her dream remained uncertain.
War Zone/Comfort Zone is a layered narrative that follows the journey of Shalini and Joy as they fight, despite virulent neighborhood opposition, to open the first transitional house for women veterans in the state of Connecticut. It also tells the story of four women who are coping with life after the military. They face homelessness, PTSD from military sexual trauma and combat, serious physical injuries and more, all within a system that is unequipped and, in some cases, unwilling to help them. The film includes startlingly honest footage from zoning meetings in which neighbors compare the veterans to “prostitutes,” as well as intimate interviews and verite footage that provide a surprising look into the lives of these invisible veterans.
The film begins on a summer night in 2010, outside of Bridgeport City Hall. Supporters and detractors have gathered to testify in front of the Bridgeport Zoning Board. We hear from veterans of WWII and Vietnam and from social workers who see women veterans couch surfing. Neighbors who feel that this is an inappropriate use of a grand, single family house in an historic district also express their views. They maintain that their neighborhood, and their city, cannot afford to sustain another non-profit project home.
This conflict was part of the appeal for director Lizzie Warren. “I knew that there was a lack of services for women veterans. Yet when I went to the first zoning meeting, I was completely surprised by the neighborhood resistance,” she said. “As time went on, I learned that the story was so much bigger than that. Joy and Shalini had been turned down in multiple towns. There was not only a lack of understanding within communities but within the VA itself. There was no comprehensive support system for these women.”
Intercut with the story of the house in Bridgeport—Joy and Shalini had to go before a committee every month for over a year before getting a final response. In the film, we encounter women who are trying to get treated within an unequal system. We meet Jill, who was the only woman commander in her entire brigade. She is now suffering from severe PTSD and she, her husband and her son are living with her in-laws. The VA suggested that she go through an all-male treatment program. “I’d feel like I was over there all over again,” Jill said in tears. Another veteran is Caroline, who was sexually assaulted in the late 70s by two fellow soldiers. She cycled through years of alcoholism, homelessness, and PTSD. She went through successful treatment at the VA but when she got it, there was nowhere for her to go. Then we hear from Inez, who is in an uncertain housing situation. She describes sleeping in her car. She and her partner, who was sexually assaulted in Iraq, remain in an uncertain housing situation.
And finally, we meet Gladys. Gladys is 50 and had been in the Air Force Reserves for decades. When her son graduated from high school, she decided to join the Army Reserves. She was trampled in a mess hall in Iraq and suffered a traumatic brain injury that prevents her from going back to her job at the post office. And yet, the VA has failed to support Gladys as she tries to cope with the reality of her situation. She was rejected from one of the only programs in the state that takes women and has been sleeping on her ex-husband’s couch for years.
The film has a raw, indie feeling and includes a chorus of women veterans, of all ages and backgrounds, who echo and reinforce the experiences and opinions of the women featured. While their opinions and perspectives vary, they are all searching for a sense of normalcy and peace after the war. While the issues concerning women in the active duty military are as well-known as they are controversial, the plight of women veterans, their place within the VA, the community and the national consciousness is a serious one that is just beginning to gather steam. This documentary takes a multifaceted matter and humanizes it. As we see Caroline, who has been homeless on and off for more than thirty years, describe why she loves having a microwave, the injustices that occur within a bureaucracy suddenly become real.