‘Hungry Man’ serves war-time insight

Monica LaBelle

It was his father’s suicide that inspired Rob Ritzenthaler to document soldiers experiencing post traumatic stress disorder.

In 1990, war veteran Captain James M. Ritzenthaler took his life after dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam War.

Shortly before his father’s death, Rob met Ralston Palmer, a Nicaraguan who had fought in his country’s civil war and whose post-war experience mirrored that of Rob’s father.

Nicaragua had a decade of war (the U.S. was involved during the Reagan administration) in which the U.S.-financed Contra Army battled the Marxist Sandinistas — pitting neighbor against neighbor.

In an effort to heal from his father’s death, Ritzenthaler and fellow journalist Mark Pitsch documented Palmer and three other soldiers’ accounts of their post-traumatic stress ten years after the war ended in Nicaragua. Shot on that ever-democratizing medium – digital video – the journalists made A Hungry Man is An Angry Man, a documentary whose message illustrates its title through straightforward, impromptu accounts.

“These soldiers are in Nicaragua but it could be anywhere, really,” Ritzenthaler said of the four Nicaraguans (two Sandinistas and two Contras) who spoke candidly before the camera about how the violence they experienced on the battlefield affected their lives years after the war ended.

Sandinistas have since had a more difficult time finding work and are unable to adequately provide for their families, feeding a frustration that has caused the Nicaraguan conflict to never be fully resolved.

The four soldiers in A Hungry Man speak plainly of treating their homes like war zones by taking their anger out on their wives and children. They express thoughts of resorting to arms against the government if their suffering continues.

“It was completely unscripted so these men are speaking from the heart and from the gut,” Pitsch said.

Ritzenthaler and Pitsch hope to send the message with their documentary that the toll of war on soldiers “chips away at the soul of a country.”

“I wanted to show that we have so much in common, why are we trying to kill each other? I think that message becomes more powerful in the wake of September 11,” Ritzenthaler said. “People need to live in a decent way. Governments the world over need to take care of their people.”

 

A Hungry Man is an Angry Man will premiere at the Resource Center for the Americas on February 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Romero Room of the Resource
Center of the Americas, 3019 Minnehaha Ave., Mpls.