In the aftermath of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group’s successful raid to take out Osama Bin Laden last week, I feel privileged to be covering the only film festival in the world to feature films about the military. The Washington D.C. based G. I. Film Festival runs from today through Sunday, May 16 at both the U.S. Navy Memorial at 701 Pennsylvania Ave and the nearby Canadian Embassy. In five short years this outstanding collection of films about the American military experience has became the quality venue for films portraying our troops in a positive light. The festival features everything from combat intense dramas, to personal stories of military families, feature documentaries and shorts to historical epics. This year’s Wounded Warrior night film is the exciting medieval themed epic Ironclad about the brutal aftermath of the signing of the Magna Carta. Through the generosity of corporate sponsors, wounded service men from Walter Reed Army Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital will be hosted by the festival for that evening.
Various Hollywood professionals who support the military like actors Robert Duvall Jeremy Renner, Kelsey Grammer, Rick Schroeder, Glenn Close and JAG‘s Karri Turner, as well as directors and producers like Ron Maxwell and Lou Reda, are often in attendance. CSI: New York and Forrest Gump’s Lieutenant Dan, Academy Award-nominated Gary Sinise, will host a reception for Congressional members who have served, or who are currently serving in the U.S. Military. With veterans on both he and his wife’s side of their families, Sinise has been an active supporter of the festival since its inception, as he has of so many other pro-military causes. This year actor William Devane will premiere the drama Flag of My Father at the festival’s Hollywood Patriots Night and a salute to International Warriors will host military films from several other countries.
Last year at I wrote a piece for Big Hollywood highly critical of box-office and morale-killing Hollywood military films like The Green Zone that have dominated movie screens. Well, the G.I. Film Festival has been out front in the battle for positive depictions of the military since it started back in 2007. Festival creators, husband and wife Brandon Millett and Major Laura Law-Millett, first created the festival to combat the continuing inaccurate and negative stereotypes that Hollywood has so often fostered about the United States Armed Forces. In an interview with the Washington Post during the launch of the first G.I. Film Festival, Major Law offered up that, “In movie after movie all you see then was soldiers raping and killing. We want to show something more positive.”
Her husband Brandon emphasized that, “We wanted to do something to focus public attention on the courage and selflessness of the American soldiers.”
The chairman of the festival, former naval officer Steve Bannon, is also an award-winning filmmaker, successful entertainment company president, and proud father of a West Point graduate who is currently serving her country as a lieutenant in the 101st Airborne. “It was a spark of genius when Brandon and Major Law-Millett started this festival five years ago. They saw the need and said, ‘We just have to do this.’ Every year they personally go out of their way to find the best films.” Bannon told me a few days ago.
Bannon points out knowingly, “In the 242 years of our history, this is only the second time besides World War II that this country has been involved in two wars at the same time. The G. I. Film Festival works against the Hollywood fads because telling great stories about the American fighting man, their families, their triumphs and their tragedies is never out of fashion.”
On Friday May 13th Bannon will share his considerable film industry knowledge in a day long filmmaker’s “boot camp” that will also feature other experienced film industry professionals. “We’ve got young G.I. filmmakers and older vets, as well as pro-military filmmakers who have never served. They’re all trying to find their voice. We want to provide access for them so they can learn their craft and get their films out there.” Says Bannon. “With the technology available today, it doesn’t matter how old or young you are. We can find you technical people for support to help them out.”
The festival has grown from 22 juried and selected films its first first year to 31 top quality films this year selected from over 200 submissions. Over the last five years a handful of the best military-themed projects have received such high praise and notice that they were rewarded with theatrical distribution deals. Excellent military themed films like Operation Homecoming, The Last 600 Meters and Brothers at War made it onto theater or television screens, in no small part because of their positive reception at the G.I. Film Festival. Recently the festival signed a deal with Discovery’s Military Channel to feature the top festival films on that popular cable military channel.
“We want to get these films and filmmakers the broadest possible exposure and our arrangement with Discovery’s Military Channel does just that.” Says Festival chairman Bannon.
Stand by at Big Hollywood over this week for reports on some the G. I. Film Festival’s best films and featured events.