The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez

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Atopia Distribution

NEW YORK -- In an example of the sort of irony that would be considered outlandish even in Hollywood, the first soldier killed in the Iraq War, shortly after its beginning in March 2003, was a non-U.S. citizen. Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Antonio Gutierrez, born in Guatemala, was a so-called "green card soldier," one of about 32,000 illegal immigrants whose enlistment guaranteed them citizenship status. His story is told in Heidi Specogna's documentary "The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez," which recently received its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York's Anthology Film Archives.

Gutierrez was an apparently troubled young man who grew up in an orphanage in Guatemala City during the time of the country's civil war. After living for several years on the streets, he traveled alone through Mexico and eventually wound up in the U.S., where he entered foster care and managed to complete high school. He enlisted in the service in order to gain legal status and was killed almost immediately, purportedly by friendly fire.

The filmmaker relates this tale in rather sketchy fashion, handicapped as she is by a lack of much documentation other than a few family photographs and letters and the testimony of various loved ones and others who came into contact with him briefly. But there is no denying the emotional resonance inherent in the young soldier's tragic story, which according to the film has already been optioned for a big-screen treatment.
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