Telling war stories along Route 66
Kurt and Nick Gerber will embark on 14-day trip along Route 66 to photograph U.S. war veterans who served in the Middle East. Their stories will be told in a documentary and book. | Michael Jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Operation Route 66
From Kurt and Nick Gerber:
The mission of Operation Route 66 is to raise funds and awareness for veterans support organizations benefitting American service members who have served in the wars in the Middle East.
The belief that the American spirit is one of exploration, giving, and togetherness provided the foundation for the ride. With the wars in the Middle East polarizing many Americans, we strive to highlight that regardless of political alignment, the millions of Americans who serve overseas deserve recognition for their incredible sacrifice. We plan to interview veterans as well as active duty service members in order to create a document that will forever serve as a reminder of the true, human cost of war, as well as provide an archive of the experiences of those who pay that cost.
If you or someone you know served – we would be honored to tell your story. Please contact us:
Kurt Gerber/ Nick Gerber
110 N. Peoria St., Suite 205
Chicago, IL. 60607
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:11AM
Capturing life’s details behind his Canon Mark 3 camera has been Kurt Gerber’s passion for three decades.
Now it will extend into a film documentary.
Kurt Gerber and his son, Nick, will spend 14 days along Route 66, telling the stories of U.S. war veterans who served in the Middle East. The project is called “Operation Route 66.”
“We wanted to tell a story of what’s going on in America. A generation of men and women are coming back from a war,” said Kurt Gerber, 52, an Oak Park resident.
“The human factor of their transition shouldn’t be ignored.”
On May 12, they will hop on their motorcycles at Soldier Field and roll onto the first leg of the trip. Graphic designer Tim Jarosz and videographer Louis Holland will follow behind in a van.
The goal is to interview at least one veteran a day.
“Riding motorcycles allows us the most visceral and direct connection to the landscape and people,” Kurt Gerber said.
“We’re creating a book of portraits of 75 service members.”
Some days they’ll cover 50 miles, other times up to 600 miles. Stops are planned for: Springfield, St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Flagstaff.
The journey will end in Los Angeles where they’ll put the bikes up for auction, with the proceeds going to veterans group.
The impetus began when they interviewed Teri Smith, a mother of a veteran in Charleston, S.C.
“We wanted to tell an American story, but weren’t sure what direction to go,” Nick Gerber said. “A friend’s cousin put us in touch with a woman ... whose son, Sgt. John Garza, had committed suicide.
“After hearing what she said, it hit us really hard. We knew this was something we needed to do,” Nick Gerber said.
The project has been under development for a year and a half. So far, they’ve interviewed more than two dozen servicemen.
“It was fascinating and eye-opening, hearing their stories,” said Kurt Gerber. “To learn about what they go through was heart-wrenching. I knew there was a story out there. There’s a generation that are asked to stand between us and bad guys.
“We wanted to share their experiences with 99 percent of America that hasn’t served,” Kurt said.
Behind the camera
The Gerbers are not strangers to quality photography.
They are the first name in Gerber + Scarpelli Wedding Photography in Chicago’s Loop.
Serving as his dad’s unofficial assistant and free labor since his teens, Nick Gerber considered a couple options before entering the photography business.
“I was drafted in,” the younger Gerber insisted. “My dad and I have a great working relationship, but this is definitely the hardest thing I’ve done,” referring to the documentary.
The father-and-son team founded 41 Degrees North Productions, a nonprofit documentary firm. To help fund the $140,000 for production and travel costs, they hosted a Pop Up Art Show Benefit in April at an art gallery.
Nick Gerber is happy with the progress.
“We had a great meeting with the film production crew and we were able to see the outline,” he said.
This fall, they will present the film at the Sundance Film Festival. They hope to release it to the public in spring 2013.
Proceeds from the film will be donated to four veteran organizations. They will also compile a book of portraits of the service members they’re interviewing.
“We’re hoping for spontaneous moments, and we’ll try to be as prepared as possible,” Nick Gerber said.