Brandon Millett and Laura Law-Millett, founders of the highly successful GI Film Festival In Washington, DC. Craig Roberts

Films with meaning

The Fifth Annual GI Film Festival kicked off Monday in Washington, D.C. with a “launch party” at a prominent restaurant and bar. If it seems that celebrations are common at the event, it’s because they are. The film festival, itself, is a celebration – a celebration of the honorable nature of services performed by men and women of the U.S. military.

However, serious business is discussed between receptions and film screenings. On Friday, the GIFF is hosting a “Filmmaker boot camp” where attendees will learn the art and science of film finance and distribution from an expert panel of Hollywood producers, directors and film financiers led by award-winning filmmaker Stephen K Bannon, chairman of GIFF and CEO of IMI Exchange.

From documentaries to action dramas, 31 films will premiere this week. On Friday, Emmy award-winning actor William Devane will attend the premiere of “Flag of My Father,” where he portrays a Vietnam veteran. Other celebrities at the festival include actors Gary Sinise and Lou Diamond Philips. Sinise, star of CSI-NY, has been a frequent guest of GIFF and has characterized the event as a place where “Hollywood and the military come together to honor the heroes who protect our freedom.”

While military veterans have long complained that Hollywood doesn’t always “get it right” when telling their stories, the GIFF tends to show works that portray the heroic acts and humanity of veterans without whitewashing the horrors of war.

“These films allow you to see the life of the American warrior from a variety of perspectives; from the active-duty servicemembers inside the arena of war, to the wounded warrior struggling to overcome their disability, to the military spouse at home waiting for their loved one to return,” co-founders Brandon L. Millet and Laura Law-Millett said in a message published in the GIFF program.

“People want to see films where the American GIs are the good guys,” Brandon recently told The American Legion. “That’s what we offer them for seven days in D.C.”

Laura, a U.S. Army veteran and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, believes GIFF has made an impact not only on Hollywood but warriors themselves. “We screened a film one year about Vietnam and afterward a retired Army sergeant came up to us and said it was the first time in years that he ever cried because he saw this film and found out that his story was being told and his work was being honored. Hearing that kind of feedback is definitely much more than any kind of feedback that we get from an institutional level,” Laura said.

The American Legion is one of the original sponsors of GIFF and honored the festival with its prestigious National Commander’s Public Relations Award in 2010. The Legion’s National Executive Committee unanimously passed a resolution last year which recognized and saluted GIFF as “the preeminent venue for military film screenings.”

“The History of The American Legion: A National Legacy” has been recognized by the GIFF with an honorable mention and will be shown on a loop in the event’s exhibit hall this weekend.

Thursday evening is “Wounded Warrior Appreciation Night” and features the Washington premiere of “Ironclad,” a big-budget action film about veterans of a different era – 13th century England. Special guests for the screening include patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Most GIFF events are being held at the U.S. Navy Memorial on 701 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. For a complete schedule, visit Members of The American Legion, Sons of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary can receive a 20 percent discount on GIFF admission prices by using discount code Mil11.