After three days at the G.I. Film Festival I can tell you that each new group of filmmaker friends I’ve made are a mix of military and military-friendly folks from across, not only our country, but also the whole globe. I normally wouldn’t give rap music or a rap artist much thought or recognition, but Danish rap sensation and soldier M.I.L.O. (pronounced MEE-LOW) certainly changed my mind. He’s a 25-year old star in his own country, but two-and-a-half years he ago volunteered for service with a Danish Royal Guard’s armored infantry battalion in Afghanistan. This sharp and funny Danish trooper did his duty as a member of a recon squad in a hotly contested and desolate countryside, giving up his successful rap career to serve his country. Denmark has almost 800 men serving as part of the NATO forces mainly in Helmand Province where they have clashed numerous times with battle hardened Taliban fighters.
M.I.L.O. received permission from his colonel to film a music video style documentary with director Julius Telmer. The film Farvel til ’09 (Goodbye ’09) was conceived as a farewell to his family if he didn’t make it back from combat. Fortunately, he did. “It’s a very strange thing to be a rapper and a soldier. I may be the first.” He told me without any fanfare. Take a look at this affecting saga of one young man’s journey from center stage to battlefield.
“My father, he doesn’t like to see himself cry, but when I came home safe he amazed himself when he watched the film.” M.I.L.O. says thoughtfully.
After spending just a few minutes during a Congressional reception with this friendly soldier/rapper it’s evident that he loves America and American history. His knowledge of the history of the American military is broad and detailed. Earlier that day he gave several other filmmakers a detailed walk and talk around the World War II Memorial. “My father used to bring me to battlefields all over Europe. It made me want to know more about the American soldiers and the others who fought and died there.”
M.I.L.O. has a mature take on the war and his future commitment to military service. “It’s very hard to come home to be a civilian again. This war isn’t going to end tomorrow. I will go back in 2013 and I will again ask my colonel for permission to make a new film.” Meeting a foreign volunteer combat soldier like M.I.L.O. with a bright mind, down-to-earth demeanor and stout heart at the G.I. Film Festival has been privilege.
Former Berkley Police SWAT officer and U.S. Army reservist Christopher Loverro served in Iraq in 2004 with the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion attached to 1st Stryker Brigade Combat team. He spent a lot of time liaising with Iraqi civilians and helping Iraqi school children. Loverro only half jokes that, “We rebuilt the doors that had to be broken down earlier.”
An actor as well as a director and writer he has been honing his filmmaking skills at a Berkley digital film center and has appeared in a number of Discovery ID cable shows, often playing a cop. Loverro’s 22 minute short Journey Home is a thoughtful study of the emotional journey of an American combat soldier who volunteers to notify his best friend’s wife of her husband’s death. He has also lectured at UC Santa Barbara and various other Northern California venues on the stress of combat and the lack of recognition of so many of our current troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Arizona based actress/producer Katrina Mutusek and writer/director Marco Santiago Jr. are showing their exciting 14 minute narrative short Xtraction. The dramatic action follows Mutusek as a former military contractor who is now working with the U.S. Consulate in drug war-ravaged Mexico. Her previous service has left her on the verge of a Post Traumatic Stress breakdown. When black marketers kidnap her character’s daughter she reverts back to her intense Iraqi War experiences and risks all to save the girl. Director Santiago is a U. S. Air Force veteran and experienced cameraman who is now dedicating himself to writing, as well.
After a great deal of perseverance, 22-year-old Reno, Nevada director Tyler Elliott managed to get himself embedded with his best friend’s Nevada National Guard unit, the Hooligans of 1st Battalion 221st Cavalry in Afghanistan. Hooligan’s at War is an intense 66 minute, on the scene documentary tracing his time spent in harm’s way with a group of soldiers. At first, he’s not even sure why he’s there, or what he’s doing. Tyler and I became friendly when he told me he’d seen my Discovery Channel Unsolved History show on The Donner Party and that it is one of his history teacher-mother’s favorites. He’s planning to go back to Afghanistan to continue his rare first hand look at the combat world of young National Guardsmen.
I’ve spent time with all of these new military-oriented filmmakers. Besides all being genuine and down to earth people, I can also personally attest to the more than considerable talent that they all possess.