The first block was the Transitioning Short Block: a collection of short films showcasing veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
The second block featured the Matinee Screening Film Block: Remembering Korea. My grandfather fought in the “Forgotten War” in Korea, so having this block is significantly important to many. One highlight of the block was The Remembered War co-written and directed by Brandon Young and co-written and produced by Sharlene Hawkes (Miss America 1985). Young shared his thoughts on the GI Film Festival and his movie.
“This is not only my first time at GIFF, but also in the DC, Alexandria area. I am amazed at the people and culture. Everyone has been very warm and welcoming. GIFF itself has been a great festival in a variety of ways; treating the filmmakers great and have been very accommodating, being very informative, and also in putting on such an important festival in honoring our service people. I’m not a vet nor active and it’s something I have regretted for many years, and the support fellow military give one another is as astonishing as it is important. The films thus far have been rather exceptional and all filmmakers should feel proud that their film has been selected amongst them. This really is a great festival and I’m honored to have been selected. My film The Remembered War is about for decades, Americans have often referred to the Korean War as “the forgotten war.” To counter this label, The Remembered War uses veterans’ interviews to tell the story of a bitter war for freedom that ultimately succeeded in producing one of the most powerful economies in the world.”
The third block featured the Matinee Screening Short Block: The Families Who Serve.
The fourth blocked featured another Matinee Screening Short Block: Overcoming Barriers. One amazing film featured 4-4-43, directed by John D. Lukas. This documentary shares the true story of Army Air Force pilot William Dyess. He and his comrades endured the deadly Bataan Death March and horrific internment by the Japanese in the Philippines. He escaped miraculously with ten men. The torture of American and Filipino prisoners of war by the Japanese is called the “Greatest Story of the War in the Pacific” by the U.S. War Department.
In the evening, GIFF premiered the movie Fort Bliss with Michelle Monaghan and directed by Claudia Myers. All were in attendance at the festival. Fort Bliss was awarded Best Narrative Feature at the 2014 GI Film Festival! Myers and Monaghan filmed this movie out of passion for the subject. The budget was less than one million dollars, and was shot in 21 days. They believed so strongly in the movie they started it before all funding had been secured. Their producer shared, “We jumped and believed the net would appear.” Forty percent of women serving in the military are mothers and there are a lot of stories like this.
Fort Bliss authentically portrays life for a single, military mother, SSgt Swann, who returns from deployment in Afghanistan as an Army medic. Ron Livingstone plays SSgt Swann’s ex and handsome Colombian actor Manolo Cardona plays her boyfriend. Monaghan also agreed Cardona was a great choice for her love interest.
For five years Myers has been creating training videos for the military. She felt a connection as a working parent. She shared, “We couldn’t have done this movie without the support of Fort Bliss. We wanted to get this movie right. Please don’t tell us if we got something wrong in the movie!”
To prepare for her role, Monaghan visited Ft. Bliss and talked to single, military mothers and parents. She also took a quick medical course: “Poor military guys kindly donated their arms for me to practice inputting needles.” She only had four days of rehearsal. Monaghan said, “It’s an honor to be here and show it (Fort Bliss) to you. Our priority is to be real and authentic. To tell this story from a soldier’s perspective.” Monaghan appreciated, “how the characters are humanized.”
One movie goer said, “There were no bad guys or good guys in this movie. It was an authentic portrayal of people trying to get by.” A lot of great questions were asked during the Q&A after the showing. Another audience member revealed when he was a kid, his dad was fighting in Korea for a year, he would point at every plane saying his dad was on it. He thanked the people behind Ft. Bliss for doing such a great job.
Fort Bliss just got picked up for distribution by Phase Four and will be shown nationwide in the Fall. Be sure to go see it! They hope to show this movie at every military base.
Monaghan, Myers, and the team behind Fort Bliss mingled with the audience in the after party. Monaghan kindly obliged every person at the party for a picture and a chat.
The GI Film Festival is a wrap! Be sure to attend next year!
The GI Film Festival was held from May 19-25, 2014 at Old Town Theater-815 1/2 King Street, in Old Town Alexandria, VA.
GI Film Festival: ‘Heroes Then and Now’ and Awards Announced by Marlene Hall.
GI Film Festival Presents: ‘Salute to Hollywood Patriots’ by Marlene Hall.
‘GI Film Festival’s Final Day’ by Marlene Hall.
‘GI Film Festival’ Opens Tonight and Runs Through May 25th at the Old Town Theater by Marlene Hall.