War Film: GI Film Festival

Ex-US Army officer Laura Law-Millet started the GI Film Festival to showcase films about war and the military by independent movie-makers.  There’s definitely a disconnect between Hollywood and the military, and we wanted to show the real experiences of being in the military,” she says in a West Point Pointer View article about GIFF’s recent visit to the United States Military Academy.  GIFF aired films on two nights, one evening dedicated to a series of shorts and the other to the premier of a feature-length film about Nazi resistance in WWII Hungary called Walking with the Enemy.  All were good, but the film that moved me most was “Prayers for Peace” by Brooklyn-based animation artist Dustin Grella.  A tribute to a brother who was killed in Iraq in 2004, the film ends with harrowing audiotape of Grella’s brother speaking from Iraq while gunfire rattles and pounds in the background.  Those who’ve been in similar situations will remember how easy it was to seem blasé about the the noise of battle when it seemed not immediately threatening.  

GIFF’s major annual event is a weeklong festival that takes place each spring in-and-around Washington, DC.  GIFF14 dates this year are May 19-25 with most of the showings at the Old Town Theater in Alexandria, Virginia.  I’ve looked at many of the trailers on the GIFF website, and the one that catches my eye is Fort Bliss.  About a woman soldier who tries to reconnect with her son after deployment, it is directed by Claudia Myers and stars Michelle Monaghan.  Monaghan has big-time credentials. She currently stars in the HBO series True Detective and in 2005 she played the female lead in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang opposite Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Vilmer and opposite Tom Cruise in 2006’s Mission Impossible III.  I’m sure Fort Bliss will be interesting, but I’m also eager to see if it avoids the traps of Hollywood showbiz filmmaking that GIFF nominally opposes.

GI Film Festival: The Making of Fallujah and The Hornet’s Nest

Ongoing in Washington DC this week is the GI Film Festival, an event that since 2007 has showcased films by soldiers, veterans, and civilian-artists interested in war and military-related issues.  As I look over this year’s schedule, two films, The Making of Fallujah and The Hornet’s Nest, catch my eye.

The Making of Fallujah documents the production of an opera about the bloody battle fought in the titular city in 2004 and 2005. In particular, Fallujah the opera portrays the war and post-war experience of a Marine named Christian Ellis, who fought and was wounded in Fallujah, while also incorporating the points-of-view of American family members and Iraqi citizens.  As far as I can tell, Fallujah has never been staged live, but the movie about its making can be viewed online, along with a trailer and assorted behind-the-scene clips, at The Making of Fallujah. The film offers large swaths of what appear to be near-full-dress workshop performances.  The musical snippets are gorgeous and the storyline and backstory compelling.

The Hornet’s Nest is the feature attraction of the GI Film Festival this year.  From the trailer, it’s hard to tell whether the subject is a 101st Airborne operation in eastern Afghanistan or the father-son embedded journalist team (Mike and Carlos Boettchner) who get caught in the thick of the action, but it definitely promises plenty of human drama and up-close-and-personal small unit bang-bang.


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