The sixth annual G.I. Film Festival wrapped this weekend with a group of outstanding films that pulled heartstrings and helped us understand the motivations and sacrifices of American men and women who go off to war.
"From Philadelphia to Fallujah," conceived and produced by Gil Bindelglas, was an outstanding documentary that profiled one West Point cadet and two Annapolis midshipmen football players from the 2001 legendary Army-Navy – a game that occurred only weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.
Lieutenant Marlon Terrell, who played on the 2001 Navy team with J.P. Blecksmith, one of the midshipmen featured in the documentary, introduced himself to producer Bindelglas after the film. Marine Lieutenant Blecksmith paid the ultimate price in service to his country during the vicious fighting in Fallujah on November 11, 2004. Terrell praised Bindelglas for the accurate and emotional depiction of his fellow teammate.
"From Philadelphia to Fallujah" is about real leadership; honor and duty, exploring just what motivates the outstanding young officers who lead other young American into combat today.
"The Red Machine" is a great little comedy suspense feature directed with a lot of style, verve and humor by Stephanie Argy. This is a film with a strong script, great 1930s production values and costumes and a really talented group of actors. The story revolves around a U.S. Naval intelligence plot to steal secret Japanese military codes with the help of a cocky professional thief played with piss and vinegar by Donal Thomas-Cappello. Think "48 Hours" meets "The Sting" in Depression-era Washington.
Lee Perkins does a great job playing the tough, smart and stoic Navy officer partner with some deep-seated secrets of his own. Director Argy and her crew obviously cared about making the film look great and evoking the glamour and grit of the 1930s, incredibly on a shoestring budget. A number of period looking Southern California location stood in beautifully for 1930s Washington, D.C.
Three words best describes this film – really fun romp.
"Memorial Day" is an outstanding combination of family film and war drama centered a grandfather who served with the 101st Airborne through some of the roughest fighting during World War II. Oscar nominee James Cromwell and his son John play the same character - 70-something grandfather Bud Vogel and the World War Two lieutenant who cares about his men, but knows how to lead them, too.
The younger Cromwell is a standout playing his father circa 1944, not an easy task, but Cromwell is intense and totally believable in this complex role. This is wonderfully written, directed and acted film that explores the tragedy and heroism of war with dignity and depth.
Themes like, “How do you tell those you love what you have been through?” and as Cromwell’s older Vogel relates late in the film, “Stories live forever, but only if you tell them” predominate the smart story line. This is a tale of grandfathers and grandsons and becoming a man.
When grandson Kyle Vogel, expertly played by Jonathan Bennett, later goes off to Iraq as a sergeant in a combat unit he brings his grandfather's lessons and true-to-life concerns with him and is better leader of men in war for it. Amazingly this film was shot entirely in Minnesota. Director Sam Fischer made excellent use of a rock quarry for the extensive Iraq scenes that helped bring that part of Marc Conklin’s proud and thought provoking script to the screen.
The film’s strong story was thought up by executive producer and veteran Jeff Traxler. The actors spent one week training with Minnesota National Guardsmen who have done their time in harm’s way and top-notch World War II re-enactors. The preparation shows whether its 1944 or 2005, the soldiers act and react like real people troopers, not cardboard stereotypes.
"Memorial Day" is a film that informs through the quiet experience of those who have come before us.
A good friend who does volunteer work with wounded warriors and veterans began tearing up half way into "Doughboy," and she didn’t let up until after the film ended. She wasn’t the only one, by the end of the film we all had more than a few tears in our eyes.
"Doughboy" got an incredible reaction from the crowd when the film ended – the most sustained applause I saw all week. This is a little film with a huge heart.
A feature length family drama made in West Virginia for less than $100,000, it boast an unabashedly patriotic theme tempered with the learning experience of a transplanted New York City teenager – who just wants out of the much more down-to-earth surrounding.
Caught up in the defacing of the local monument to the town’s World War I veterans Barrett Carnahan’s Tory Hedderman is sentenced to work at the local veteran’s center. Michael Allen does a fantastic job as the seriously injured young veteran who befriends the troubled teen, as does Carnahan as Tory. Terry Kiser, best known as Bernie in "Weekend at Bernie’s," does a great cameo as, shall we say a very unusual veteran.
A number of real local wounded warriors and veterans appear in the film in actual interviews and playing themselves for Tory’s documentary, a project he willingly takes on in an effort to help keep the center open.
Lead character Tory is the child of a Prius driving, Obama loving, hippy dippy father and hypno-therapist mother; a wonderful sendup that would make liberal Hollywood foam at the mouth. His tofu munching pacifists parents are aghast that their son will do his penance working with veterans.
A situation even more exacerbated when he brings his local “crush” home for dinner, the unapologetically patriotic Jill, played with a natural sweetness and underlying depth by newcomer Emily Capehart.
Is "Doughboy" a little rough around the edges here and there? Absolutely, and it doesn’t matter. This is a film that has such an emotional impact in a small and sweet little package that you can’t help but respond positively to it.
The film so impressed legendary film score composer Bruce Broughton ("Silverado") that he agreed to write the score for director Ty DeMartino.
The G.I. Film Festival is going on the road and plans to be in a number of other cities over the next eight months. This Veteran’s Day, the festival will be in Los Angeles showing these and many of the other official 2012 festival films. Mark your calendar and check in periodically at the festival's official site.