AUGUSTA, Maine — Travis Mills understands why a film crew decided his story would make a good documentary. He’s a soldier. He did three tours in Afghanistan. And he survived the detonation of a roadside bomb that cost him parts of four limbs.
“[Producers from nonprofit filmmakers Fotolanthropy] saw my story in the news,” 26-year-old Mills said Thursday by phone from Texas. “I was a rare commodity, so to speak. I’m one of five.”
One of five? That, Mills explains, means he’s among just a handful of soldiers who returned home from serving in Iraq or Afghanistan as quadruple amputees.
When pressed, Mills accepts the fact that the injuries he suffered aren’t the true reason Fotolanthropy chose to expand what was originally planned as a 10-minute short film to an hour-long documentary called “Travis: A Soldier’s Story.”
It’s how he dealt with those injuries, and how he has inspired others, that really matters.
“At first, it was a 10-minute short film for me and my family, and to put on their website,” Mills said. “Then, I traveled from Maine to Michigan to Texas, and when I come in and I’m doing so well [in my recovery], I kind of become a shoulder to cry on. I kind of became the guy that everybody talks to about their problems. I tell them it will be OK. And once I saw that people were getting inspiration from my story, I said, ‘OK. Show it.’”
Mainers will be able to get an early look at the film at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, during a premiere screening at Cony High School’s Viles Auditorium. Tickets are $10. Mills’ wife, Kelsey, is from Maine, and much of her family still lives in the Gardiner and Hallowell areas, Mills said. The couple, who have a young daughter, are having a house built in Manchester and will move to Maine full-time after its completion.
Last May, Mills visited Camp Kennebec in Belgrade, where he announced the formation of the National Veteran’s Recreation Center on Salmon Lake.
“I wish I could come to the Maine [screening], but I have a prior commitment in Arizona,” Mills said. “But I’ll Skype in [by computer]. If people want to come out and see who their new neighbor is, I’d encourage them to come out.”
Mills said that initially, he and his wife had some concerns about relinquishing control of their privacy. At one point, they even removed their 2-year-old daughter Chloe’s photos from the family’s Facebook page.
“When I realized how upset the grandmas were [that they couldn’t see photos of Chloe], we started posting family photos again,” Mills said with a chuckle.
Mills said the Fotolanthropy crew filmed the documentary in just five days. Included in the documentary are interviews with Mills, family members, and members of his team from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, who were with him when the explosion took place.
The re-enactments of that explosion proved particularly stressful … but not for Mills himself.
“We re-enacted the explosion with papier-mache,” Mills said. “They were my guys [participating in the re-enactment]. It was rougher on them than me. I knew the end of the story. I said, ‘It’s fine, guys.’ I was the one calming them down.”
At one point, after three takes, Mills said he told the director that there would be no more explosions filmed.
“I said, ‘They’re done.’ They had horror special effects, and it looked like I was blown up all over again,” he said.
Mills was able to keep his sense of humor during the filming, though. Upon watching the documentary, he realized that the man he was watching on the screen didn’t really look like the Travis Mills he had been.
“I was fat,” he said, laughing. “If you want to tell people that the camera adds 15 or 20 pounds, that would be fine.”
Mills said he’s happy with the finished product, and said that all but the smallest children would probably enjoy hearing his story.
And if people are inspired by what they see on the screen, then the film has been a success, he said.
“I don’t want people to think my problems are any bigger than their problems. We all have our burdens,” Mills said. “The big thing for me is, people say, ‘It could get worse.’ Instead, I like to say, ‘It’s going to get better.’”