Last night The GI Film Festival showed two film block segments at the Old Town Theater in Alexandria, Virginia. The features were: When Hollywood Went to War and Travis: A Soldier’s Story.
The house was packed with VIPS. including Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, actor and philanthropist Gary Sinise, the late James Gandolfini’s family and friends, and army veteran, quadruple amputee and motivational speaker Travis Mills.
The first film, The First Motion Picture Unit: When Hollywood Went to War is a documentary short by Constantine Nasr. It vividly described through rare home movies, film and newsreel footage how Hollywood went to work behind the scenes during WWII to help with military training films, military recruitment films, and even how they created the Top Secret Japanese landscape to scale to help with bombing runs. Hollywood played an instrumental role in defeating Germany and Japan. As one Nazi put it, to describe why they lost the war, “We didn’t think America could train fast enough to defeat us and we were wrong.” A particularly funny video showcased the dangers of venereal disease. One “pilot” didn’t get treated for his VD and ended up crashing his plane in one of the movies. The actor’s son recalled how his dad was recognized in public one time for being the “pilot with the clap.”
Former President and actor Ronald Reagan and actor Jimmy Stewart played integral roles in the recruitment of military members. Jimmy Stewart joined the Army Air Corps as a pilot soon after winning an Academy Award. In one scene Stewart told viewers becoming a pilot was a great way to woo women. The camera cut to a woman who leaves a conversation with one guy to chase after a pilot at a party. Stewart’s movie was credited with 150,000 military recruits. Overall, Lt. Col. Jack Warner and the U.S. Army Air Forces’ First Motion Picture Unit or FMPU produced more than 400 films supporting the American WWII war effort.
During the break between films, Gary Sinise was brought out to much applause for his incredible work with our veterans. His Lieutenant Dan Band performs across the country all year to raise money for the Gary Sinise Foundation which builds homes for our wounded warriors. Sinise in turn introduced Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno. Odierno praised Sinise for his life’s work dedicated to our veterans. Odierno thanked Laura and Brandon Millett for the great work they are doing with the GI Film Festival.
Odierno then talked about the late actor James Gandolfini’s dedication and admiration to our military. Gandolfini participated in several overseas USO tours, visited the wounded warriors at Walter Reed and elsewhere, and produced the documentary Wartorn about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the military throughout the many wars. Gandolfini interviewed Odierno for his documentary Wartorn. The audience watched two clips of Wartorn, with one featuring Odierno being interviewed by Gandolfini. Odierno presented the GI Film Festival Spirit Award to Gandolfini’s sister and his college roommate. His sister movingly shared how his brother was the most proud of his work in Wartorn and the only award he displayed in his house was for Wartorn. Gandolfini’s roommate looked on with tears in his eyes and toward the ceiling when Gandolfini’s sister said she knew he was watching over the ceremony.
Travis: A Soldier’s Story, by Jonathon Link, documents and reenacts U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne’s military life: his army career, marriage, and his injuries in Afghanistan which left him a quadruple amputee. Watching Travis recover from his wounds, and fight to walk, and use his prostheses is inspiring. Link explained the movie was shot in 5 days with a budget of $16,000.
The whole story came to be because of the nonprofit Fotolanthropy came upon a picture of Travis and contacted him offering to film a documentary about him. He enthusiastically agreed and also asked to include his military friends who reenact the story. Fotolanthropy’s mission is to share inspiring stories of overcoming obstacles. Mills wants to get the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion to come together and focus on the younger generation. He finds it sad more people know what is going on with Angelina Jolie than what the military is going through overseas at war. Mills is a passionate advocate of veterans and started his own nonprofit The Travis Mills Foundation to help other veterans. The Gary Sinise Foundation is building an adaptable home for him in Maine.
The after party was at the gorgeous Masonic Temple. Attendees talked with the movie star of the night Travis Mills, his gorgeous wife, and Director Jonathan Link.The highlight of the party for me was going up the elevator to the top and watching the gorgeous views of DC.
The GI Film Festival is being held from May 19-25, 2014 at Old Town Theater-815 1/2 King Street, in Old Town Alexandria, VA. The phone number is (703)-884-1040.
GI Film Festival’ Opens Tonight and Runs Through May 25th at the Old Town Theater.