How We Are Not Done Yet Accidentally Became a Documentary
By Allison Picurro
Producer Jeffrey Wright and retired U.S. Army Sergeant A.V. Avegalio open up about putting a piece of theater on film.
HBO: How did We Are Not Done Yet come to be a film?
Jeffrey Wright: The film that you see was in some ways an unwitting documentary — it’s an accidental documentary. We were making a piece of theater. The process of making that piece of theater, and ultimately, of making this film, was organic and a naturally evolving thing. We decided we’d capture these portraits of some of the participants and use those to take a deeper dive into who they are. The more the stories grew, the more the support grew because the stories themselves and the people who were sharing them are magnets for the human interest.
A.V. Avegalio: To be honest, I didn’t know it was going to be a film. The idea was to allow a space for us to tell our stories and be open for the first time — and hopefully somebody would hear us and feel that it was OK for them to accept us for who we are. We didn’t really notice the cameras because we didn’t know that anything was going to happen on such a grand scale. In my opinion, that’s why it came out so genuine.
HBO: What has the reception been like from other veterans?
A.V. Avegalio: A lot of veterans have told me how this film has given them the courage to want to tell their story, or to open up and share with their families. Civilians have also told me, “I never even knew any of this existed.”
Jeffrey Wright: Ideally, the film will play a not-insignificant role in reshaping our audience’s perspective of these people we only really know as statistics.
HBO: What have you both learned from working with each other?
A.V. Avegalio: We didn’t know a lot about theater and for Jeffrey to come out and want to help, it was huge. None of us had ever really been in contact with someone in the Hollywood realm. But when he walked in, he was just an average guy. He didn’t come off as pushy, he heard our vision and all he wanted to do was add to it. He gave us some direction, some guidance, and he motivated us.
Jeffrey Wright: The reason that I sought out the opportunity was because, particularly over the last couple of decades which coincided with the time our country’s been at war, my appreciation and respect for people who served has grown. We often hear politicians say that the people who serve are the best of us. We hear that rhetoric, and sometimes it seems to me that the treatment of those folks they describe as the best of us doesn’t match that description.
I can say, having worked with this group of men and women, that they are without a doubt the best of us. I mean that in terms of their commitment to citizenship, but these are also some of the most interesting artists that I’ve ever collaborated with. They are able to give voice to their experiences, the hills and the valleys of those experiences, in ways that are so flashingly compelling and in ways that are so deeply authentic. Just the music and the clarity of their voices is so resonant and so rare.
HBO: Why do you think this type of poetry and performance art is so cathartic for veterans?
A.V. Avegalio: I can’t speak for everybody else, but for me it was just an avenue to talk about the things that I was holding so deeply in my heart, things I wasn’t able to tell anybody else. When I would write the poems it was just a way to kind of unburden my heart, unburden my soul and my mind. Putting it on paper helped me so much that I felt it would be beneficial for others to tell their story, and help others understand what we’re going through. Hopefully they don’t see us as weak people or people who are seeking attention. We’re not, we just didn’t know another way to do it.
We Are Not Done Yet is now available to stream on HBO.