WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 27, 2014) -- In its eighth year, the GI Film Festival premiered 56 movies last week celebrating the indomitable warrior spirit of America's Soldiers, from the Civil War through Iraq and Afghanistan.

The week-long festival line-up covered about every aspect of military triumph and struggle. In addition to showcasing courage on the battlefield, the GI Film Festival mission was to bring attention to problems facing returning GIs on the home front, which includes post-traumatic stress, family issues and unemployment by bridging the gap between the military and the general public with dynamic films and special events.

On Friday of Memorial Day weekend, special tributes were paid to Hollywood movie stars such as Cpl. Alan Ladd, 2nd Lt. William Holden, Capt. Ronald Reagan, Maj. Clark Gable and Col. James Stewart, who along with Lt. Col. Jack Warner, produced more than 400 propaganda and training films, which helped shape America's involvement in World War II.

Following the evening's first presentation, the premiere of the documentary short, "The First Motion Picture Unit: When Hollywood went to War," long-time service benefactor, actor and philanthropist Gary Sinise introduced special guest Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno to the standing-room-only audience at the historic Old Town Theater, in Alexandria, Va.

Odierno spoke about the four or five times he'd met with actor James Gandolfini who had produced several documentaries on the post-traumatic stress many Soldiers deal with following combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Jim was known for his work on 'The Sopranos,' but the real James Gandolfini I got to know was an individual with a large heart who cared so much about the young men and women who served and who went out of his way to do simple things that showed the American people what these great young men and women went through," Odierno said.

"He was always frank and honest and hard with his questions, but his point was he wanted to get to the truth, and he wanted to show America what some of the challenges are that our young men and women face," he said. "Prior to 'Wartorn,' Jim profiled 10 disabled veterans, officers, non-commissioned officers, enlisted from all walks of life in an HBO documentary. He was struck by the personal courage and the continued patriotism and love for their country."

Odierno then presented the Gandolfini family with the prestigious GI Film Festival Spirit Award.

The final event of the night was the premiere of "Travis: A Soldier's Story," about Travis Mills, an 82nd Airborne wounded warrior, motivational speaker, actor and advocate for veterans and amputees. Despite losing portions of both arms and legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, in 2012, the former staff sergeant continues to overcome life's challenges, breaking physical barriers and defying odds.