Army benefits from international film fest
December 15, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 15, 2011) -- The U.S. Army took home more than awards from the International Military Film Competition in Italy last month, according to a DOD employee who was there.
Joe Harris, chief of Visual Information policies and programs for the Defense Media Activity, served as a judge for the competition near Rome, Nov. 7 to 12. He brought home the Crest of the Italian Army Support Units Commander for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center. The Safety Center won first place in the promotional category for its production "Pass it On," a film about motorcycle safety.
The competition -- which includes not only NATO but worldwide militaries, such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa -- does much more than provide a showcase for international films, Harris said.
"Basically, the competition is ideas," said Harris about the 22nd such international film festival, dubbed Eserciti e Popoli" (Armies and Peoples). "So, we've been participating and exactly what's transferred is, I hope, many good ideas. I was able to observe a lot of good ideas and we try to pass those on, particularly production values or approaches."
One of the other things it does for all participants is provide a look into the culture and the standards international video crews bring to a production.
"I learned a lot," Harris said. "And because I was there, I was able to explain a little bit about the American productions," he added.
Relative to the other countries, he said, the U.S. military is more focused on training.
"We tie (a production) specifically to a requirement, while the other countries may do a little bit more artwork. And the creativity may be a little higher," he said.
EARLY ARMY FILM PRODUCTION
The American military used to make films that were on a grand scale, thanks to such directors as Frank Capra who directed 11 documentary war films for the "Why We Fight" series -- winning an Academy Award for one.
Now, however, Army films are tied to training and are focused, Harris said. "So, our spectrum is probably more limited than it was in the past, and when we do something grand in scope, it's usually through a contact like recruiting, so it's really not in our production venue here," Harris said.
One of the reasons controls are placed on productions, said Harris, is to avoid waste and duplication.
Defense Visual Information, he said, exists to manage productions. Its history stems back to the 70s when President Carter championed the Lissit Study. Robert Lissit, an outside consultant, determined the government was spending $500 million annually for film-making. He said the government had nearly $2 billion worth of cameras, studios, lights and other equipment. An article in American Film magazine stated "Hollywood on the Potomac" was larger than MGM and Paramount studios combined. So President Ronald Reagan ordered a temporary moratorium on government films, Harris said.
The whole idea was to bring production under control, Harris said. And that was the genesis of Defense Visual Information, he said. It was part of the Office for Administration, which in 1976 was transferred to the Armed Forces Information Service, the predecessor of DMA.
"We manage productions … we manage Combat Camera and things that have a lot of near visibility, and work with public affairs. But very important to our existence is managing productions, and actually Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations that says we have to manage and control the government's use of intellectual property rights.
"We basically coordinate the distribution of all productions done by the services. We don't do them. We don't manage the service's production programs... But we are the distribution arm," Harris said.
U.S. military productions, he said, have to be tied to a need. They must focus on that need, accomplish it, and then a survey ensure that the production did what it was intended to do, Harris said
COMPETITION INSPIRES COLLABORATION
"We tend to think we're the greatest, but there's some fantastic work coming from overseas, too, and hopefully, if you look at it with the right attitude, you learn a lot." Harris said.
As a result of this collaboration, the Polish announced they were considering holding a similar international film competition within a year or two.
"They don't have a plan yet, but it's interesting because the Eastern Bloc countries, since they were freed from the Soviet Union, have been in a development mode, and essentially they're becoming very enthusiastically part of NATO, and Partnership for Peace.
Partnership for Peace is a program of practical bilateral cooperation between individual Euro-Atlantic partner countries and NATO. It allows partners to build up an individual relationship with NATO, choosing their own priorities for cooperation.
The purpose of the partnership is to increase stability, diminish threats to peace and build strengthened security relationships between individual Euro-Atlantic partners and NATO, as well as among partner countries.
"Croatia had a production showing their modernized military and there's been an evolution, first starting with their own issues -- post-occupation -- and they're at the point now where they're saying 'Now, we're part of all the military nations that can participate in partnership operations.
The Polish Ministry of Defense had a production this year, he said, about the induction of boy scouts into the military during World War II. They were pressed to join to try to stem the German invasion, Harris said.
"They also did a production -- it didn't win because it was submitted too late -- on the women of Auschwitz. And I'm working now on getting copies of that for historical purposes. But it was an oral history on women and women's issues in the Auschwitz camp which hadn't been dealt with before.
"It was quite moving," he said.
Because of this production, Harris and his team were able to establish a closer relationship.
"We have resources, both within our own archives and NARA, that we can assist with in helping develop any future reference material they need."
The National Archives and Records Administration, one of the world's largest audiovisual archives, includes 360,000 reels of film that are available for both documentary and feature films.
"And you get to see things you didn't expect. Normally, we don't have military interoperation with the Brazilians, the way we do in NATO. They held an international military sports competition last July and they entered a production showing how they prepared for it.
Last year, he said, South Africans entered a production showing their Air Force, and the integration of their forces, and a variance of a jet they developed because of their isolation.
Also last year, the Chinese entered a 50-minute film showing their 60th anniversary parade.
"It was dreary ... just marching unit, marching unit, marching unit. But this year, they had a production showing their efforts with the UN in the Congo and the diffusing of military weapons. And they won for a production showing women of the Chinese military taking care of some of the youth," he said.
STIFF COMPETITION RAISES QUALITY
Harris said production values and techniques are quickly being elevated.
"There's a lot to learn. And just as we expect ours to be the best, not so, and so there's a little humility, too," he said.
A lot of capabilities are coming about because of this cooperation.
"It shows how we can interoperate in a coalition, like the International Security Assistance Force, because it shows how basically their militaries are emulating ours in the way they develop and now in the way they show their capabilities."
The stiff competition, he said, is fostering excellent productions done by militaries, worldwide.
"The Swiss, for instance, won the overall prize this year where the production aimed at high school kids to encourage them to join the aviation service and it features the acrobatic team with dramatic footage shot in the Alps of airshows and the drama of how a student got involved.
"The Pakistani's (who've won three of the last five years) had a production, second place this year, that highlighted the fight of two soldiers at an outpost in Wiziristan (a region near the northwest of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan) when it was attacked by insurgents. This re-enacted drama included the rallies of the insurgents before they attacked. Shot at night with high definition cameras, explosions, everything ... very well done production.
"The Brazilians, last year, took third prize with a production on their support to Haiti. It was a very well-done production about support to the Haitians as seen from the eyes of a notional Haitian girl who was receiving aid. It was a very good way to portray the efforts they were doing," Harris said.
Attendance was down this year, he said, because of budgets, although China has always had at least four representatives there.
"The productions we send come from the services, and this year we didn't have service attendance. But last year, we had representatives ... production managers from both the Navy and Air Force ... people directly involved in production. They got to meet and talk with producers and other significant people from the other countries and how they were working.
"This is an area where we can participate and actually learn from others and develop contacts ... people in the business … and they've been very helpful to be able to pick up and call somebody and talk about production.
Contacts have also resulted in interaction with Combat Camera.
"For instance, the Swedish recently paid a visit to DIMOC, DINFOS and the 55th Combat Camera Company at Fort Meade, Md., coordinated through the State Department.
"But this arose from conversations with the Swiss over two years ago when they were just beginning their combat camera capability, trying to stand it up and learn how to do it, how to get into operations," he said.
This year, he said, DMA had conversations with the Austrians who are in that same initial stage.
In Italy, Harris accepted a cup from the mayor of Bracciano for best technical excellence for all five productions submitted by the U.S. military.
The first place award winning production can be viewed at
(Editor's note: Joe Harris retires next week after 37 years of military and government service.)