Buried Above Ground

In BURIED ABOVE GROUND, we meet three Americans who are fighting ongoing battles with PTSD -- Luis, a combat veteran; Erundina, a lifelong survivor of domestic violence who fights addiction issues; and Ashley, a New Orleanian who lived through Hurricane Katrina and returns to confront the aftermath. One powerful narrative plays, whereby the personal becomes polemic.

Luis’ journey establishes a master narrative that capitalizes on the public’s emerging understanding of the relationship between combat trauma and PTSD. Through Luis’ arc, we learn about the hellish symptoms of PTSD -- acute anxiety, flashbacks, severe depression, dissociation, hypervigilance, emotional numbness, and isolation. From there, we see the ways that PTSD devastate the lives of other trauma survivors who are far less visible in the culture: survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and natural disasters.

BURIED ABOVE GROUND embeds in its three subjects' lives over a six year journey using subjective framing, vérité, interviews, and personal video archives. We gain access to their therapy sessions, home life, and efforts to embrace community all the while trying to unburden themselves from the crippling lock of their past traumas. Luis learns to cope through the bond he forms with his service dog Tuesday and by becoming an advocate. In the wake of evacuating Hurricane Katrina, Ashley returns to New Orleans to rebuild herself, her home, and her city. After a lifetime of abuse, Erundina wages an ongoing fight for her sobriety, while putting herself through college and repairing the relationship with her son.

  • Ben Selkow
    Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, A Summer in the Cage
  • Ben Selkow
    A Summer in the Cage
  • Ben Selkow
    Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, A Summer in the Cage, Prayer for a Perfect Season, The Carrier
  • Marc
    Heaven Adores You, The Campaign, The Weather Underground, Trembling Before G-d
  • James Lester
    Prayer for a Perfect Season, Chicagoland
  • Flavia de Souza
    Song of Lahore, Mala Mala, Open Heart, The Carrier
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 18 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    April 15, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    300,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital, SD, HD, Home video
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Ben Selkow

Ben Selkow is an award-winning New York-based filmmaker whose work has been exhibited on HBO, CNN, Sundance Channel, Discovery, Science, Pivot TV, Esquire, The Weather Channel, SnagFilms and at numerous international film festivals. His varied credits include the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” (CNN, Director/Producer, 2014), “Welcome to Fairfax” (Pivot, Executive Producer, 2014), “Get To Work” (Sundance Channel, Senior Story Producer, 2012), “Prayer for a Perfect Season” (HBO, Producer, 2011), “The Carrier” (PBS World/Cinedigm, Producer, 2011 - Tribeca Film Festival), Emmy Award-winning “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero (6-part series, Steven Spielberg/DreamWorks/Discovery Channel, Post Producer, 2011 - Emmy Award-winner), and “A Summer in the Cage” (Sundance Channel/IndiePix/FilmBuff, Director/Producer/Cinematographer, 2007), which won the 2009 Mental Health America Media Award. He was a Mental Health Journalism Fellow at the Carter Center (2010-2011), the institute founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife and activist Rosalynn Carter, and a Sundance Producer’s Conference participant (2003). He graduated from Wesleyan University’s Film Studies Program with Honors in 1997.

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Director Statement

In summarizing his PTSD experience, war veteran and former U.S. Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan says in BURIED ABOVE GROUND, “A disproportionate amount of time is spent thinking about the past than your average person. That goes along very much with, what if the worst thing that ever happened to you, kept happening to you?” As I saw first-hand making this film, the impacts of PTSD are devastating. I am making this film because I want to contribute to a more compassionate public dialog around post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As a filmmaker, I have been dedicated to creating films about mental health issues since 2000, and even beyond. I first became interested in film after seeing my mother, a psychologist, being featured in the National Film Board of Canada documentary L’INTERDIT (1976), about an alternative commune for treating patients with schizophrenia. 

Previously, I made a film called A SUMMER IN THE CAGE about bipolar disorder–that premiered on Sundance Channel. It went on to win many mental health media awards, but the most profound experiences were the 200-person intimate screenings. Audience members courageously came forward to share their stories, ask advice, and begin to find community. There are another 25 million people in America and 450 million globally, often silently battling PTSD’s symptoms. BURIED ABOVE GROUND follows three Americans: Luis, a veteran returning from service in Iraq with a Purple Heart; Ashley, a native of New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina; and Erundina, a victim of child abuse and domestic violence. By following multiple subjects with a range of traumas, the film aims to expand our society’s growing knowledge of PTSD in the public theaters of trauma, such as war and natural disaster, to include a better understanding of the more private theaters of trauma, such as child abuse and domestic violence.

Artistically, I used an intimate and longitudinal storytelling process over six years in making BURIED ABOVE GROUND through intimate vérité, interviews, subjects’ archival home video and still photos, and an original score. The film follows the subjects through their therapy sessions and memories of triggers, flashbacks and disruptive thoughts. BURIED ABOVE GROUND follows the subjects from recollections of the traumatic experiences themselves, to the jubilant moments when they have broken free from the paralytic PTSD symptoms. The film is unique in that the camera stays with its subjects long after the triggering events and through to the varied journeys to recovery. Each is different in their own ways as they cope. There are no neat, Hollywood endings, but hope and inspiration come from Luis, Erundina and Ashley’s resilience and effort to make better lives for themselves.

BURIED ABOVE GROUND takes the stories of those living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) out of the shadows of stigma. The film hopes to create a united front for change in political, social and media communities using the personal story as polemic.