The GI Film Festival is saluting Los Angeles for the second time this Friday and Saturday on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, a worthy reprise after years of playing the nation's capital.
The only fest focused solely on movies honoring the successes and sacrifices of America's armed forces, GIFF - subtitled "Reel Stories, Real Heroes" - features a slate of new productions and previous award winners, as well as a Filmmaker Boot Camp, a symposium for vets looking to enter Hollywood and networking opportunities with many of the major studios. And as this is L.A., naturally there's a red-carpet gala.
"When we started this, I don't think either one of us ever thought we'd be hosting the event on one of the most storied and historic studio lots in Hollywood," said Brandon Millet, who founded GIFF with his wife, West Point graduate Laura Law-Millet, in 2006. "We think it's a mark of the evolution of the festival. It's also a testament to the wellspring of support that we're seeing in Hollywood for veterans."
Industry-based organizations such as Got Your 6, Veterans in Film and Television, the Military Channel and American Legion Post 43 are among the nonprofit's L.A. partners.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for those who want to get into the film and television industry," said Steven Dunning, former national co-leader of NBC/Universal's Veterans Network. "The access is really incredible. It's a good basic opportunity for those not in the military to see the talent pool that is there and for them to understand that military personnel are not just foot soldiers."
Landing the studio as this year's venue - Hollywood's Los Angeles Film School hosted the 2012 GIFF - was the result of a combination of events.
"It just seemed the perfect time because of Disney's veterans- hiring initiative, Heroes Work Here," said Jonathan Flora, a producer in the Mouse's home-entertainment division and an 82nd Airborne vet. He and other vets on the lot proposed the idea to new Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, a former Air Force captain, and to no one's surprise, Horn enlisted.
The event draws both the families of those who've served their country - or are currently doing so - and a corps of show-biz professionals who want to support the cause, though the studio location clearly lends an extra bit of cachet.
"It's awesome that Walt Disney Studios opened its arms to these guys," said Scott Elrod, an actor raised in a military family who has appeared in "Argo" and the upcoming Navy SEAL feature "Lone Survivor."
"It's a great venue to showcase these films. And who doesn't want to go check out the studio? I want to be a part of it, and I don't have to get on an airplane and fly out to D.C."
Millet points out that his aim is not to unquestioningly glorify the military experience. "We only have one thematic criteria - that GIs in the films we show are portrayed with respect," he said. "We don't aim to whitewash the devastation of war. Some of our films are very hard-hitting, and they show the impact of war."
"You can't get any more targeted than this," Brian Iglesias, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve, said of the festival. His documentary, "Chosin," recounts the horrific and controversial Korean War battle in which tens of thousands of Chinese troops surrounded U.S. and U.N. forces. "It celebrates the military, and no one else actually does that."
The 20 films selected are indeed quite varied, from the animated World War I comedy "Jockstrap Raiders" to "The Real Inglorious Bastards," about the Jewish refugees who returned to infiltrate Hitler's Europe for the Allies.
"We do drama, we do romance, we do documentaries, long and short form," Millet said. "There is something for everybody ... We are a quality film festival, and our films can stand up in the entertainment capital of the world."
"Overall, it's the human experience," Laura Law-Millet added. "I think sometimes people think that soldiers are this other entity, something that's kind of foreign that they don't really know or talk about ... People are going to be surprised about the depth of emotion you're going to get from these films and the breadth of experience as to what it's like to be a military person serving."
Because of security concerns, tickets must be purchased online by Oct. 31 at gifilmfestival.webconnex.com/GIFFLA. Prices run $12-$40 for individual programs, or there is a $100 all-access pass; 20 percent discount for active duty, reserve and retired military personnel. For more information, visit gifilmfestival.com.
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