Román Baca returned from war a changed man. Struggling with depression and anxiety after a combat tour to Fallujah, Iraq, from 2005 to 2006, Baca took his adversity by storm and created the New York based dance company Exit12.
Eventually, Baca and Exit12 expanded beyond performances by professional dancers to offer workshops to veterans and their loved ones. Devoted to the belief that art heals, the workshops allow a safe place for veterans to communicate often ineffable memories of war, and to process trauma through the language of dance. The choreography of battle is repurposed by Baca and his fellow dancers, who reclaim their military training by liberating it from the strictures of combat. Now, this same training to kill inspires artistic expression, giving the veterans an opportunity to transform their experiences and reconnect with their humanity.
Interweaving the company’s choreography with personal stories of war, the Iranian-American director Mohammad Gorjestani’s film gracefully bridges the two seemingly disparate worlds that Exit12 inhabits. In doing so, the film highlights the surprising synergy between the movements of battle and those of dance, underscoring how both disciplines affect the body and mind.
Working to upend expectations, Exit12: Moved By War offers a surprising portrait of a U.S. Marine. Preconceptions of who or what a war veteran might be are destabilised; there is no ‘one size fits all’ frame for the many faces of war. Baca’s dance workshops are a reminder that our lives can take many courses. A life once dedicated to service can find purpose and a home in dance, proving that the path to self-fulfilment can be embodied in many forms.
Written by Olivia Hains