BRATS: Our Journey Home A Donna Musil Film Featuring Narration and Music by Kris Kristofferson
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Film helps ‘brats’ belong


Thursday, April 19, 2007 9:05 PM CDT

ELIZABETHTOWN - Donna Musil doesn’t have a hometown.   She spent her childhood on a number of military bases throughout the world - 12 to be exact, on three continents.

Musil was a military brat.   She spent her sophomore year at Fort Knox High School, one of three that she attended.   It was 1976 and Musil was 16.   That summer, her dad, a JAG officer and military judge, died of cancer.

The next school year, Musil enrolled in a civilian school in her mother’s hometown in Georgia, with students “who had been together since kindergarten,” she said.   It was the first time she realized she felt out of place in the civilian world, what brats call the “real world.”

She spent the next 20 years of her life trying to fit in, until she realized she wasn’t alone.

That was when she began the search that led her to create Brats Without Borders, a nonprofit aimed at giving a voice to brats and other kids raised in cultures not their own, and to write and direct “Brats: Our Journey Home,” a documentary about growing up military.

Currently on national tour, “Brats” will be in Elizabethtown for a free screening at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Historic State Theater Complex.

Narrated by Kris Kristofferson, it includes archival footage, home movies, private photographs from postwar Japan, Germany and Vietnam and interviews with the likes of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and others who spent their childhoods hopping from base to base.

“Make no mistake,” the film’s synopsis reads.   Brats’ is not about the U.S. military — it’s about their children, who grew up in a paradox that is idealistic and authoritarian, privileged and perilous, supportive and stifling — all at the same time.   Their passports say ‘United States,’ but they’re really citizens of the world.”

“We talk about the good, the bad and the ugly,” Musil said.

At previous screenings, Musil said she noticed adult “brats” who watched the film stayed long after it was over.

“People would come to see it and all of a sudden, they have permission to talk about all these things they haven’t talked about before,” she said.   With Fort Knox, and the large population of adult brats and retired military in the area, we have the opportunity to reach the military brat audience and their extended families and friends.”

Musil wrote a number of scripts before writing and directing “Brats.”   Her credits include “Rebuilding America’s Communities,” a Carter Center documentary about inner-city poverty, and educational and industrial films for Coca-Cola, BellSouth and M&M Mars/Snickers.

The idea to write “Brats,” which has collected numerous awards in documentary film making and has been featured on several news specials including CNN’s “This Week at War” and NPR’s “All Things Considered,” came to Musil after a reunion with former classmates from the school she attended in Taegu, Korea.

At the reunion, “I felt at home,” she said.   I felt like I belonged somewhere for the first time.”

She began to realize things that made her feel different and alone were things common among other brats, such as always “trying to save the world,” rather than being motivated by money, and always wanting to be in control, possibly because so much was out of her control as a child.

She also had trouble in adult relationships, possibly because long-term friendships were something she never had.

“You’re always holding part of yourself back when you know you’re going to leave them in a year,” she said.   Measures I had used to survive as a child are counterproductive to forming relationships as an adult.”

According to her research, an estimated 140,000 adult brats live in Kentucky and 15 million in the U.S. About 1.2 million children are being raised in the military today.

But “Brats: Our Journey Home” isn’t a film about statistics.   It’s about people.

Making the film gave Musil a sense of self-awareness and belonging with her community and she hopes the film will spark that same feeling among others.

“There are 15 million other people out there that are just like me,” she said.   I do come from somewhere.   It’s not a place, but it’s a group of people.”

Musil has plans for future projects dealing with the “military brat subculture,” including documentaries and a feature film that is a coming-of-age story based on a military base in Korea.

Just days before the screening of the “Brats” documentary in Elizabethtown, she looked forward to returning to the place she spent such an important year in her young life.   She plans to visit Fort Knox and see the house where she and her family lived her sophomore year in high school — the last house she shared with her father.

“I’m so excited,” she said in a phone interview from Colorado Springs, Colo., where she attended a screening of the film at Peterson Air Force Base.   I haven’t been there since my dad died.   I imagine it will be a bit emotional for me.   I’m sure I’ll shed a few.”

Holly Tabor can be reached at 769-1200, Ext. 236, or at

‘Brats: Our Journey Home’

A free screening of the documentary, “Brats: Our Journey Home,” will be 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Historic State Theater Complex, 209 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown.   For more information, call (270) 234-8258. To learn more about the film, visit
The first documentary about growing up military.