GI Film Festival returning for 4th year
April 27, 2010
The fourth annual GI Film Festival is scheduled to return to the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, May 12-16.
The festival will include military films in every genre, from major motion pictures to short films and documentaries.
"The mission of the festival is to honor men and women in uniform through the medium of film," said Brandon Millett, the festival's co-founder and president. "We have a diverse group of films that have one thing in common, and that is that American GIs are always portrayed with respect."
The film festival came about in 2007, when he and his wife Laura, a West Point graduate and former major, became dismayed at a succession of anti-military films, and wanted to share positive stories.
"We're living in a time of war and the last thing we need to be doing is tearing down our warriors. We need to be lifting them up. We knew there had to be films out there that told the other side of the story, and they just lacked a vehicle. So we decided to provide one for them with a film festival. From the moment we started it, it sort of took on a life of its own," Millet explained, noting that the festival received 85 submissions the first year and more than 200 last year.
It's incredibly important for Soldiers and the American public to see positive military films and know they exist to help keep both morale and support strong, agreed Capt. Olena Fergurson, a wounded warrior who attended the 2009 festival.
"I think it's about time that they're showing something that the military does (that's) positive," she said. "So many times the American public portrays all the negative publicity and stuff and there are so many things Soldiers do on a daily basis. The reality is that you have to take the good and the bad and...even though war...is horrendous, there is a lot of good that has come out and a lot of positive things that are being done.
"Another thing is the morale boost. It's not always killing and fighting, (there are) a lot of good things. There's a lot of bonding that goes on...and a lot of friendship building and a lot of other positive aspects that people can learn and take away from a war situation and back home in the United States as well."
There's something for everyone at the film festival, Millet said, explaining that each night is dedicated to different groups, especially wounded warriors (May 13) and families (May 15). Many of this year's submissions focus on post-traumatic stress disorder, but the selections are diverse.
"We have patriotic films that pull at the heartstrings. We have popcorn action films that keep you on the edge of your seat. We have the historical documentaries that you might see on the Military Channel or History Channel. We have the intense, gritty combat films. Whatever kind of military film you like, we have to offer. It's possible to sit through our entire slate of films and experience every single human emotion," he explained.
For example, Millett described last year's "Injury Slight, Please Advise" as a real "Indiana Jones" film. It's about Capt. Charles Sullivan, an Army Air Corps fighter pilot who was shot down over New Guinea during World War II and survived a month in the jungle, even escaping a group of headhunters. The real Sullivan was in the audience.
"That's what's important about our festival," said Millett. "We don't just screen films. We create experiences for people. You actually get to meet these GI heroes."
In July 2009, the festival co-hosted an advanced screening of Academy Award Best Picture winner "The Hurt Locker," while May 14, actress Glenn Close will premier a short film she directed and narrated, "Pax," about post-traumatic stress disorder. This year's "Warrior Champions" follows four severely wounded Soldiers in their quest to compete in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, and another documentary, "Chosin," chronicles the escape of 15,000 U.S. troops from 120,000 Chinese soldiers who surrounded them in the frozen mountains of North Korea.
With notable exceptions like "Valkyrie," starring Tom Cruise, which was shown to wounded warriors in a special screening to help kick off 2009's festival, and HBO's "Taking Chance," starring Kevin Bacon, the films usually premier at the festival, and most are by independent, professional filmmakers.
Several have been picked up for distribution in theaters nationwide, including the 2008 GI Film Festival Best Documentary Feature winner, "Brothers at War," about a filmmaker's journey to understand the experiences of his two brothers serving in Iraq. He followed them to Iraq and embedded with their unit in what film critic Roger Ebert called an "honest, on-the-ground documentary about the lives of Americans fighting (in Iraq)." It was recently released on DVD, and PBS has nationally run both "The Last 600 Meters" about Najaf and Fallujah, Iraq, and "The Way We Get By," the story of a group of senior citizens who greet Soldiers at a Maine airport.
Millet is working to bring more of the festival's positive military films to a national audience via movies and television, and plans to take the best films on the road. The festival visited Los Angeles in September 2009, and Millett wants to bring it to cities and military bases all over the country.
All servicemembers who want to attend the festival will receive a military discount of 20 percent, according to Millet. Tickets are available for individual events, as well as the festival as a whole, and can be purchased in advance online, or at the door.
"Being in the military, I really like to watch film festivals and stuff and just see what other Soldiers share. I could really relate to their stories. You know, (it's a) been there, done that, got the T-shirt kind of thing," said Fergurson.
For more information, or to see a schedule of this year's festival, visit www.gifilmfestival.com.
<b> Soldiers' favorite war movies</b>
<i>Soldiers magazine conducted an unscientific poll and asked a handful of Soldiers about their favorite war movies. Love one they missed' Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.</i>
Aca,!Ac Band of Brothers
"Makes me humbled to wear a Screaming Eagle patch." - Maj. Jason Waggoner
"I watched the entire series ("Band of Brothers") after returning home from my deployment. Just seeing what those men went through is gut wrenching, and it makes me grateful and thankful for their service and sacrifices. I know a lot of our servicemembers do not have easy deployments, but nothing compares to what those men went through." - 1st Lt. Khrysten Darm
Aca,!Ac Black Hawk Down
"Life lesson for me. Even if I think I'm going through a rough time, it's nothing compared to what others have had to endure. Also keep up the fighting spirit and don't let the (jerks) get you down." - Capt. Patsy Takemura
"This ("Brothers") is a recent release with Toby Maguire. His personal struggles and suspicions are all too real, and I have personally witnessed someone with some of the same internal strife. Seeing this movie should raise awareness about PTSD and other psychological effects of a deployment on a servicemember and his/her family." - Maj. Vinston Porter
Aca,!Ac The Longest Day
"About three hours, but it has the U.S. and German sides of the same battle. How poor planning, ego and logistics decide the outcome of a battle and war rather than just shoot 'em up." - Sgt. 1st Class Kelly McCargo
Aca,!Ac Pearl Harbor
Aca,!Ac Saving Private Ryan
"A lot of them were true stories that happened, so that's pretty much why I liked them." - Cpl. Aaron Carlson
"Come on, if an '80's film is still quoted today, it has to be good." - Maj. Jason Waggoner
Aca,!Ac We Were Soldiers
"I saw it ("We Were Soldiers") in theater with (my wife), and she cried. Her dad is a Vietnam vet and there were many scenes in the movie he lived on a daily basis...also, a lot of personal ties in the movie when they were notifying next of kin. I had to do that twice in one day. The first one was for one of my very own Soldiers, and the second one given to me because I was already in uniform with a chaplain." - Maj. Vinston Porter.A-a,!A
<i>Editor's note: Movies are in no particular order. Opinions are those of individual Soldiers, and do not reflect endorsement by Soldiers magazine, the U.S. Army or the Defense Media Activity. </i>