Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Report from the G.I. Film Festival

At first, it feels like kind of an odd juxtaposition to be walking down a red carpet at the foot of the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. But that's how the G.I. Film Festival rolls. And if you think about it, why not? The relationship between film and the military is arguably one of the industry's strongest and longest-standing.

Except that the GIFF, now in its fifth year, doesn't exist to further tout the big Hollywood military blockbusters. Its purpose is to shine a spotlight on independent fare that portrays the military in more intimate and non-conventional ways. (Like "Memorial Day" itself, the festival isn't pro-war or anti-war; it's pro-empathy.)

We were fortunate enough to play last Saturday night as part of a special GIFF event honoring military spouses. The evening included an awards ceremony honoring the Lifetime TV series "Army Wives" and was attended by lead actors Sally Pressman and Brian McNamara. And we played after a cleverly conceived and well-executed 6-minute short film called "High Card Trumps," directed by Geoffrey Quan.

The organizers of the festival couldn't have been nicer, and it must be said that after a dozen screenings, the film has never looked or sounded better than it did at the GIFF. While the theater itself was chilled to about 55 degrees, the audience reception was pleasantly warm, especially after the show as we hob-nobbed with media members and fellow filmmakers.

After the screening, director Sam Fischer invited me, executive producer Jeff Traxler, producer Craig Christiansen and editor Bill Rammer up on stage for a brief Q&A, where I was once again surprised that one of the most frequent questions we get involves how we accomplished a certain scene involving a prosthetic body part. The line of the night went to Jeff Traxler, who quipped that "we were done with that actor, anyway, so we thought we might as well shoot him."

When we returned home, we were thrilled to find out that the GIFF has awarded us "Best Narrative Feature" of 2012--our second such award if you include the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. Thank you, D.C., and thank you, GIFF!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Report from the Austin Screening

Gotta love it when your director and one of your star actors help set up the "step and repeat."
Okay, we're not talking about the Austin of South by Southwest fame. We're talking Austin, Minnesota--birthplace of three legends: John Madden, my wife, and Spam.

Wednesday, May 9, was a special screening set up by "superfan" Kathy Green, a woman who simply loved the movie so much that she decided to set up her own event to share the film and benefit the wonderful organization Beyond the Yellow Ribbon. Sam Fischer, John Cromwell ("Lt. Bud Vogel"), Sean Dooley ("Sgt. O'Hara"), Craig Christensen and I were honored to be there to watch the film with 200 other southern MN folks, many of them in uniform.

Each screening crowd has reacted somewhat differently to the film, and what was surprising about the Austin audience was how much they seemed to get the movie's subtle attempts at humor (most appreciated by the screenwriter). As we signed posters after the show, I was asked by a grateful vet where I got the idea to give SSgt. Kyle Vogel an issue with migraines, as he was plagued by the same issue after Vietnam. Although it was a somewhat random decision in the service of giving a hero an Achilles heel, the truth is that migraines are a significant issue and marker for other health problems among returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most memorable moment for me was getting the privilege of meeting a rare, real-life Rosie the Riveter--a woman who worked as a machinist in World War II. It once again hit me that these amazing people are out there, unnoticed ... at the supermarket, the gas station. People who in one way or another served in what WWII historian John Keegan aptly called "the largest event in human history." For the most part, my GenX tribe knows nothing of the sort. And although I hope we never do, we should honor and appreciate the people who endured that experience before they disappear from view.

Say what you will about small American towns; one thing I feel each and every time we visit one is that the thread of history is a bit longer, connections to the past stronger. Thank you, Kathy. And thank you, Austin.