A documentary about Carlos Arredondo, the Boston Marathon bombing rescue hero and peace activist with strong Jamaica Plain ties, is nearing completion after a decade in the works.
“The Man in the Cowboy Hat,” a documentary by JP resident Janice Rogovin, has been in production since Rogovin filmed her first interview with Arredondo in 2005. It now needs $30,000 to be completed.
“The film looks beneath the surface and presents a multi-layered portrait of a resilient and complex person while also touching on big issues our society faces today such as the future of the American Dream, participation in democracy, and war,” Rogovin told the Gazette last week.
Arredondo is a nationally known peace activist who frequently exhibits a mobile anti-war display in JP’s Monument Square as well as around the country. Rogovin filmed much of his local activity as part of the filmmaking.
Arredondo’s son Alexander, who grew up in JP, was a Marine killed in action in Iraq in 2004. When Arredondo heard of his son’s death, he lit himself on fire in grief. After recovering, he joined his wife Mélida, Alexander’s stepmother, in peace and veterans’ rights activism. The JP post office was dedicated to Alexander. Arredondo’s younger son, Brian, committed suicide in 2011.
The Arredondos attended the 2013 Boston Marathon in support of a fundraiser for a veterans group. They were at the finish line when the bombs went off. Carlos Arredondo went to the aid of several victims, including Jeff Bauman, a man whose legs had been blown off. Arredondo helped to save his life by dragging him into a wheelchair and tending his wounds. An Associated Press photo of Arredondo pushing Bauman while wearing a cowboy hat became an iconic image of the attack.
Arredondo declined to comment about the film. Mélida Arredondo told the Gazette his time is currently focused on the Arredondo Family Foundation and surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s ongoing trial.
Rogovin first became interested in Arredondo in 2004, after hearing about his reaction to Alexander’s death.
“I heard on the news that when Marines informed him that his oldest son Alex had died fighting in Iraq, he got inside their military van with gasoline and a propane torch and the van exploded with him still inside,” she told the Gazette. “I could relate to Carlos’s extreme reaction to his son’s death. During the Vietnam War, I used to worry that my brother would be drafted.”
After Rogovin’s brother’s birthday was the first pick in the 1969 Vietnam Draft Lottery, he joined the National Guard and survived the war. But their cousin was not so lucky: he died at the Battle of Hamburger Hill.
After meeting a friend of Arredondo’s, Rogovin asked to be put in touch with him. She sent along a copy of her documentary photography book about the Vietnam War, “Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been.” Arredondo invited her over on Aug. 25, 2005, the one-year anniversary of Alex’s death and his own birthday.
“I filmed my first interview with Carlos the following day,” she said. “I was drawn to him on an emotional level. Over time, I could see clearly how Carlos’s personal narrative intersected with big issues such as immigration, participation in democracy, economic inequality and war.”
“Carlos’s extreme grief over Alex’s death launched him on a journey to honor his son and fight for the America he believed in,” she said.
In the following 10 years, Arredondo became a well-known peace and veterans’ rights activist, driving all around the country with a coffin in the back of his pick-up truck, to protest the government’s policy of banning media coverage of coffins returning home from Iraq.
When President Obama changed the law so that individual families could decide whether to allow media coverage, Arredondo replaced the coffin with a wheelchair and prosthetic legs, to advocate for veterans.
In 2011, Carlos was a central figure in the Occupy Boston and in Occupy JP protest movements. And in 2013, he became “the man in the cowboy hat,” the heroic face of Boston’s citizens coming together in the wake of the bombing.
“I continued working on the documentary for almost 10 years, throughout his peace activism, Occupy Boston and Occupy JP, the death of Brian, and the Marathon bombing,” Rodovin said. “In addition, I interviewed his mother several times, both in Costa Rica in the house where he grew up, and while she was visiting him in Roslindale. Her contribution adds dimension to Carlos as a character and to his story as an immigrant.”
“His story highlights the personal and social consequences of war,” she said. “It also raises awareness about the willingness of those in power to lie and manipulate. This film urges you to take a stand for the American Dream and democratic values. If we don’t insure that these values continue to exist, who will?”
Rodovin has set up an Indiegogo fundraiser campaign at bit.ly/tmitch2015, expected to close on April 22. As of the Gazette’s deadline, she had raised just over $8,300 of the hoped-for $30,000.
Assuming Rodovin meets her fundraising goal, she said it would take another two to three months to complete the film. According to the Indiegogo page, a preview of the film is planned for May 5 at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline.