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Hidden battles

HIDDEN BATTLES begins in the West Bank. Driving apprehensively through narrow streets, a voice narrates: “I hadn’t killed before… I kept thinking, what am I going to do? Will I be able to pull the trigger?” The voice belongs to Zachariah, leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, who at thirteen was shot four times and lost his family to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We’re almost friends now, Death and I,” he admits calmly. The constant stress of being pursued as one of Israel’s “most wanted” is all-consuming, and causes him to reconsider his involvement in the conflict.

For soldiers there is no clean break between the past of war and the present. When Aaron, a former Marine, was deployed to Somalia in1994 as a scout/sniper, “the really cool summer camp he was in, playing soldier, came to a crashing halt.” Aaron promised himself that he wouldn’t kill anyone. But in the midst of constant gunfire, he came face to face with that promise. For years, Aaron kept his experiences to himself, while he was haunted by his memories. He moves from Massachusetts to Scotland with his family in hopes of escaping his past, only to find that he can’t get away.

A beautiful housekeeper in New York, Esmeralda also has a history few people know about: thirty-one years ago she made the choice to pick up a gun and join the Sandinista Revolution. Esmeralda returns to Nicaragua, where she faces her past as she revisits her fellow soldiers, the dilapidated school where she trained, and places where she fought. As she does this, repressed memories emerge. As much as she cannot accept having “murdered,” she does realize: “in the moment, if I didn’t kill them, they would kill me.”

Saar, a successful choreographer, was a Special Forces Officer in the Israeli Army. He returns to his training camp in Israel with an experiment in mind: to apply what he has learned from dance to training the elite unit. He talks at length about the cycle of brainwashing that makes it possible to see a human being as a mere target. Saar speaks of this brainwashing as if it is in the past, but when he picks up a gun and fires, he is overwhelmed by the warrior still inside of him. Ultimately, Saar comes to accept that having killed is a “fact” of his life.

Yet, how do soldiers process such a “fact?”  For decades George minimized the emotional impact of having killed in Vietnam. Nevertheless, he recalls that when he first killed, he was gripped by the feeling that he “did something – literally against God.” George recognizes that killing has had a lasting impact, and resolves to do something about it. He works with young veterans, helping them express the psychological wounds of war through artistic outlets. 

Each soldier deals with killing in his or her own unique way. Hidden Battles shows five ways in which this act is integrated into five different lives. Ultimately these stories testify to the resilience of the human spirit and hopefulness for the future.


The film screened in twelve festivals nationally and internationally, had over forty grassroots screenings, and was broadcast internationally. Hidden Battles is available for educational use and home use.

watch trailer

2010 / English, Spanish, Hebrew & Arabic with English Subtitles / 65 Min.

Director: Victoria Mills

Producers: Hayley Downs, Kathy Leichter, Lila Yomtoob

Director of Photography: Danae Elon

Editor: Bryan Gunnar Cole

Music: Maxim Moston

Extra Scenes

director q&a

A Discussion With Director Victoria Mills
Interview by Mila Djordj


A comprehensive list of resources for Veterans, their families, friends and communities. 

Q: You are both a practicing psychoanalyst and documentary filmmaker. Can you talk a bit about how the two professions inform each other and how they differ?

A: What I find similar about documentary filmmaking and psychoanalysis is people sharing important experiences – experiences that are unique to them. I am curious about people and what motivates them, and this curiosity informs how I interview people in both. Every person on the street has a story to tell. And generally people want to be heard. If they have a good listener, they are more likely to talk openly. Both a documentary interview and a session with an analyst allow people to do this. The frame of analysis allows for memories and insights to emerge and be experienced emotionally. I totally immerse myself in a person’s experience within this specific environment. Documentary filmmaking does not take place in the controlled environment of an analyst’s office, but like analysis the subject has an opportunity to share their experiences and I am immersed in their individual story.

awards + festivals

Martha Davis

Forensic Psychologist

”Poignant, fascinating, and stripped clean of film cliches about combat experience, Hidden Battles gets to the heart of how five very different former soldiers carry the burden of killing.”

George T. Marshall

Executive Director & CEO, Rhode Island International Film Festival

"Hidden Battles" is a timely and evocative documentary that looks beyond political rhetoric and polemics to focus on the very real human cost of war; any war. Poignant, engaging and disturbing, director Victoria Mills posits an important message about the real cost of killing another human being. Brilliant and highly recommended.”

Dr. Holly Arrow

Psychology of War Lab, 

University of Oregon

“The Complex and sometimes conflicting emotions the soldiers express about their combat experiences challenge facile assumptions about the psychological impact of war. Recommended viewing for any class that covers war.”
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