GI Film Festival: Where Hollywood Fears to Tread
Brandon L. Millett has crunched the numbers and come up with a formula Hollywood doesn't want to compute. Films featuring U.S. soldiers as the enemy don't sell tickets. Period. So Millett decided to create the G.I. Film Festival, an annual event honoring movies that depict soldiers in a positive light.
The five-day festival, which kicks off its third year Wednesday (May 13) at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., just keeps growing as a result. This time around, the festival will feature 48 film screenings - up from 30 last year. "Brothers at War," which won the festival's prize last year for best documentary, got a theatrical distribution deal thanks to its festival appearance.
Stephen Baldwin, James McEachin, Brandon Millett, Gary Sinise - 2008 Festival
Oscar winner Robert Duvall will lend his star presence to the proceedings, along with Sen. Fred Thompson and Kelsey Grammer.
"We didn’t know how big it would get and how quickly it would grow. It took on a life of its own," says Millett, Festival President. Millett pins the blame squarely on Gary Sinise, Hollywood's hardest working actor on behalf of U.S. soldiers.
"We had Gary at our first film festival when we were not much more than a concept. That really gave us momentum and credibility," he says.
Sinise isn't the only actor who appreciates the festival's mission - to honor the successes and sacrifices of the U.S. Military.
"No matter what you think of this war, or any war, we must support the men and women doing the fighting. Most people get it, and that often includes those from Hollywood," he says.
True, some actors "are infected with an anti-military, anti-American bias," he says. Millett wonders why acclaimed director Brian De Palma saw fit to shoot two films featuring the military in his career - and both prominently dealt with soldiers raping the innocent ("Casualties of War," "Redacted").
"Not one other story line in the last 20 years jumped out at Brian De Palma?" he asks.
"The American people don’t wanna see films where G.I.'s are rapists, murderers. Those films die at the box office. That's not the American warrior we know, and not the one we want to see," he says.
The festival will screen war movies old and new, like the recent "Taking Chance," the well received feature starring Kevin Bacon, as well as the world premiere of the Citizens United film "Perfect Valor."
Millett says his festival doesn't take a political stance. Its mission is more important than that.
"We take a big tent approach. We want to show as many people as possible the quality and character of men in uniform," he says.
Christian Toto is a freelance film critic whose work appears in The Washington Times. He blogs about film at What Would Toto Watch?