There really isn’t enough appreciation out there for the fact that documentary as a form of storytelling is so darn tricky and it can easily lose its way. Perfume War is the tale of a unique bond between a couple of best friends and their attempts at making the world a better place which in spite of some incredibly compelling subjects can’t help but feel like a pitch for a product line rather than a way to improve the lives of those who need it the most.
Perfume War is the exploration of the extraordinary relationship between two best friends whose shared mission of peace has made an enormous impact on countless lives. Captain Trevor Greene joined the military to fight the oppression of women in Afghanistan. Barb Stegemann was a single mom moved to take on her best friend’s mission after he is brutally wounded by the Taliban. Inspired to pick up where Capt Greene could no longer continue, Stegemann begins to work with Afghan farmers who grow legal flower crops instead of the illegal heroin poppy; which is the Taliban’s chief income source and creates an unlikely weapon in the fight for world peace. It’s perfume and in a world that monetizes war and violence, Stegemann and her company find a way to make to make peace not only preferable but profitable in war torn countries that are desperate to rebuild themselves in any way that they can.
While Perfume War is a noble and deserving tale to be told, its focus on subject Barb Stegemann and the humanitarian work feels a little too slanted at times making it feel like a corporate pitch rather than a humanistic story. The achievements of Stegemann and her 7 Virtues company are pushed a little too hard to the forefront while relationship between Stegemann and Capt Greene (and his accomplishments) feel like they are getting pushed into the background.
There’s is no doubt that Stegemann makes for an inspiring and compelling subject that deserves to have her story told but the film just doesn’t do as much service for its subjects as it thinks it does. Director Michael Melski starts it all off pretty balanced as we get a glimpse of our subject’s lives and how they have intersected but at the point when we start to deal with the injury to Captain Greene, his subsequent recovery which is nothing short of remarkable seemingly gets pushed into the background in favor of Stegemann’s journey. Don’t get me wrong, her story is a remarkable one and it’s one that deserves as much of an audience that it can get, but rather then hearing about Stegemann on Dragon’s Den and how she got this company started, a large part of me kept wanting to see more about Captain Greene and his continuing rehab and the remarkable leaps that he made to rebuild himself after being struck in the head with an axe from a young Taliban insurgent. His remarkable journey as his brain essentially rebuilt itself is an amazing one and the fact that he is even alive with any kind of capability of movement is a testament to the human spirit, but instead we get pitches about perfume. I’ll be the first to admit that she is doing great work in continuing on Greene’s dream of empowering women and local farmers and merchants in countries like Afghanistan and Haiti is remarkable and worthy of praise, but if you haven’t seen the documentary about Greene called Peace Warrior; you will be distracted and trying to find a way to see that story instead…I know I was.
Ultimately, Perfume War is an uplifting and inspiring story that deserves to be seen by as many audiences as possible but anyone who goes in not knowing a thing about Capt Greene’s journey will find themselves looking at their watch wanting to Google more info about him no matter how engaging and compelling Barb Stegemann and her successes are to watch.
Perfume War is playing select shows at a variety of Cineplex locations across the country this weekend.