Section 60: Arlington National Cemetary provides rare, intimate glimpses of the loss, love and pride felt by Section 60 visitors, underscoring the human toll exacted by the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, while honoring those who sacrificed their lives for their country. Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill capture the sights and sounds of this quiet pocket of Arlington National Cemetery, where families and friends grieve, honor, remember and find comfort and community with others who share profound loss. A reverent snapshot of the ever-expanding Section 60, the film comprises vignettes shot from early morning to sundown.
Mourners ranging from young widows and family members to fiances and fellow soldiers visit Section 60 to try and connect in spiritual and physical ways with the loved ones they've lost. The parents of a Muslim serviceman tell how they moved to the U.S. 25 years earlier to pursue the freedoms for which their son died. A group of mourners mark the anniversary of a soldier's death by playing a patriotic country ballad on a boom box. A father camps out on his son's grave with a quilt, a bottle of bourbon, and one of two "Iraqi freedom cigars" his son had sent from Iraq, with the promise to smoke it on his return. The sister of a fallen soldier calls Section 60 "one of the most honorable places in America."
Section 60: Arlington National Cemetary originated when HBO's Sheila Nevins called Paula Zwillinger, the mother of a young soldier who died in "Baghdad ER," on the anniversary of her son's death - and learned she was at Arlington visiting his grave. Nevins felt that the cemetery could provide a fitting coda to HBO's previous Iraq documentaries and enlisted Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill to contact Armed Services officials. Granted extraordinary access to the site, Alpert and O'Neill "embedded" themselves into the fabric of daily life in Section 60, capturing landscapes, families, friends and officials. Over the course of four months in 2007, they filmed on a daily basis, earning the trust of families who shared some of their most personal moments.
Since the Civil War, Arlington National Cemetery has been the nation's preeminent burial ground for military personnel. Over 300,000 people are buried in an area of more than 600 acres, including veterans from all the nation's wars. Funerals average 28 a day, with about 6,400 burials annually. Nearly four million people visit Arlington each year.
Jon Alpert, winner of 15 Emmy® Awards, has received international acclaim for his intrepid work in such hot spots as Iraq (both recently and during the Gulf War), Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, the former Soviet Union and the Philippines. Co-founder of Downtown Community Television Center (DCTV), a community production facility based in New York City, his HBO documentaries include "One Year in a Life of Crime," "Lock-Up: The Prisoners of Rikers Island," "High on Crack Street: Lost Lives of Lowell" and "A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back."
Matthew O'Neill, who also works at DCTV, directed "Baghdad ER" with Alpert and produced "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq" with him. ("Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq" was directed by Alpert and Ellen Goosenberg, who also produced it.)
Section 60: Arlington National Cemetary was directed and produced by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill; co-producer, Rebecca Abrahams; edited by David Meneses; cinematography & audio, Jon Alpert & Matthew O'Neill. For HBO: supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.