BANGOR, Maine — While wrestling with post-traumatic stress disorder after three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Matthew Pennington had great difficulty finding the right kind of treatment for himself.
The former high school drama club member, who served six years in the U.S. Army, never expected that treatment to come from being in front of a movie camera.
The Dexter resident answered a national casting call to star in a 15-minute film written, directed and produced by a Maine native titled “A Marine’s Guide to Fishing” and got the role, along with a surprising amount of therapy.
“Through being able to act out these situations in the movie, it enabled me to be able to work out some of my own personal feelings,” said Pennington, a retired sergeant who lost his left leg below the knee and suffered serious damage to his right leg after the Humvee he was driving was blown up by an improvised explosive device in Iraq five years ago. “It’s not my story or situation, but I was able to draw upon it, act it out, and see it almost outside myself. It turned out being very therapeutic for me. I was able to self-identify with a lot of things and start making changes.”
Thanks in part to the efforts of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and Husson University President Robert Clark, Husson’s Gracie Theater will host a special screening of the film — created by Nicholas Brennan, who grew up in Falmouth — at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8.
“It really is a perfect project for a lot of the key people who are involved,” Michaud said Friday at a press conference. “This is not only a way to destigmatize PTSD. It’s also showing that different things help different veterans differently. One of the things I’ve learned is the arts can be therapy for certain veterans like Matt.”
The film has had only seven screenings this year, but it’s already garnering notice and awards while also generating plenty of questions and conversation about veterans’ care.
“The movie’s 15 minutes, but it usually starts off at least 45 minutes of questions,” said Pennington, a native Texan whose family moved to Winter Harbor in 1993.
The film screening will be part of a three-hour event at Gracie Theater also featuring pre- and post-film discussion. Admission to the public is free but limited by a 500-seat capacity.
“We were asked if there was an opportunity to do this at our theater, and we have a very active veterans group on campus, with 170 currently taking classes, so it was ideal for us to be able to host this,” said Clark, a major with 11 years in the Army Reserve and the former director of casualty operations during the first Iraq war.
The 28-year-old Pennington will attend the screening along with Michaud and Army Maj. Darryl Lyon of the Maine Infantry Foundation charitable organization.
“I was very pleased with the finished product. It’s such a strong film. It leaves people with so many overwhelming questions,” said Pennington. “To go around and do this is really unique for me. My hope is people who are at a loss can come and get an idea where to go for help.”