Veterans in the film industry had the opportunity to share their work for the second straight year at Hollywood Post 43 in Los Angeles. On March 31, five teams of veterans screened their short films – each following a comedy theme – which were then judged and presented with awards.
But for Past Post 43 Commander and event chairman Jeric Wilhelmsen, the Veteran-Made Film Competition (VMFC) was more than just a film festival.
“We’re a Hollywood post here. Most of our members are really involved in the entertainment industry,” Wilhelmsen said. “They either work in film, television, Internet or some sort of entertainment. We have a really strong tie to Hollywood.
“What we found is that one thing that young veterans are looking for is employment, so we wanted to provide opportunities for them to gain employment. We thought that this was a perfect type of competition that would actually kind of reunify our community … after COVID the past three years. We’ve helped bring our veterans together again so they could build these teams, and hopefully they move into the future with these teams and find people that they enjoy working with and demonstrate their abilities and are able to find work in the future.”
This year Post 43 teamed up with Veteran Entertainment Television (Vet Tv), which provided the judges for the event and awarded a prize of $500 to the top overall film. Other awards were presented in the categories of best direction, best acting, best writing, best cinematography, best editing and honorable mention. The Militza Milo Spirit of 43 Award also was given to the individual who best understood the mission of the competition.
“The Veterans-Made Film Competition is a program of Hollywood Post 43 where we bring teams of veterans and the Legion Family together to work together to create films that they can use as portfolio pieces to gain employment,” Wilhelmsen said. “The hard work that everyone has put into this event is incredible. These five teams are led by leaders, and these leaders have taken this idea from inception to completion. It’s really inspirational, the hard work they’ve put into this.”
The best overall film went to “War Story Wednesdays,” which tells the story of a young woman who wants to join the military and visits Post 43 with her grandfather to hear the stories of the post’s veterans.
“It’s an amazing feeling to win this award,” said Dave Flores, the film’s director and a member of Post 43. “It’s been something I worked really, really hard for, and it’s something I’m going to be really proud of. It’s awesome to be appreciated as a veteran, not just a filmmaker.
“The amount of help I had on this film was truly something to appreciate. I had almost 30 people on the cast and crew who would come and take their time from a weekend of their own accord and just say, ‘Hey, we served, and so did this guy, and he’s got a pretty good story, so we’ll hang out with him for the weekend and shoot.’ I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Flores said filming at the historic Post 43 was a special experience. “This building is amazing. It’s beautiful,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of other movies shot here, from ‘Star Trek’ to ‘The Shining.’ To say that ‘War Story Wednesdays’ was shot here … I’m proud to be able to say that.”
Post 43 member Ricky Ryba, who both acted in and produced the film “Mystery at the Bar,” relished the chance the VMFC gave he and other veterans.
“The American Legion is so respected, and it’s such a wonderful place for all veterans to come and to support each other,” Ryba said. “This is a new type of opportunity, which is really fun because they allowed us to really explore the space … and get creative. We’ve never had that opportunity before. And we really had a fun time supporting each other.”
That kind of support is something that Ryba has found at his Legion post. “Over time, the meaning of (being a Post 43 member) has evolved for me,” he said. “At first, it was just helping me transition out of the military. Now that I’m out, it’s solid friends that I can count on. Friendships that I’ve developed over the years that have been really important to me. I’ve realized the true value of what this organization can and does do for me and other members.”
The festival’s other award winners were:
· Honorable Mention, Most Relatable Comedy – “Chair Force Revenge”
· Best Editing – Simone Silva, “Code Specter”
· Best Cinematography – William Greenberg, “War Story Wednesdays”
· Best Writing – Simone Silva, “Code Specter”
· Best Acting – Mahogany Zachary, “Mystery at the Bar”
· Best Director – James Arterberry, “Cinemeta”
· Militza Milo Spirit of 43 – Michael Melechin, Excellence as Key Grip