The G.I. Film Festival

It may not be the view from a foxhole, but the second annual GI Film Festival will provide Washingtonians with a glimpse into the lives of America’s military men and women.

The festival opens today with Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Ric Keller (R-Fla.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.), John Linder (R-Ga.) and Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) scheduled to attend a congressional reception. Actor Robert Duvall will present Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year Staff Sgt. Jason Seifert with the festival’s GI Hero Award.

Following the reception are four full days of movie screenings, discussion panels, receptions and awards ceremonies. The list of attendees includes actors Chuck Norris, Gary Sinise, Tom Selleck and Vivica A. Fox, as well as prominent directors, producers and military leaders.

Festival President Brandon Millett and his wife, Maj. Laura Law Millett, created the event two years ago when they decided there needed to be more positive images of soldiers in the popular media. In the festival’s second year, film submissions grew to 160 from 125, and Millett said the main requirement for a film to be screened is that it portrays soldiers with respect.

Americans “want to see soldiers performing courageously and heroically under difficult circumstances, which is what they do the majority of the time,” he said.

Kirk, who is still active in the Navy Reserves after joining in 1989, said military movies “strike to the heart about why we join.”

Among his favorite moments in military-themed movies is the appearance of the EA-6B Prowler aircraft in “Flight of the Intruder,” a 1991 Navy film starring Danny Glover. Kirk, at one time, flew on that aircraft.

Kirk is also a fan of Tom Cruise’s 1980s hit film “Top Gun.” He even remembers being inspired when seeing the words “Top Gun” painted on one of the aircraft hangars he visited during his time in the service.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is an equally enthusiastic military-movie fan. Wilson, who served in the Army Reserves from 1972 to 1975 and in the Army National Guard from 1975 to 2003, rattled off several of his favorite military movies, among them “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Longest Day” and “A Guy Named Joe.”

One of the more memorable times Wilson was drawn into a military movie came after he won his congressional seat in 2001 and was headed to Washington for his swearing-in.

On a bus trip from South Carolina, someone put in “The Patriot,” a 2000 movie set in his home state that stars Mel Gibson.

“I was dead tired,” he said, but he stayed up to watch the entire film. “I find war movies inspiring,” Wilson said, but he added: “It’s not the blood and gore I want to see. It’s the heroism. It’s the planning and execution.”  

One of the military movies that sticks out in the mind of Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is “Black Hawk Down,” a 2001 film about the U.S. military conflict in Somalia.

Kline fought in that conflict, and called the movie “an amazingly accurate portrayal.”

“I said, ‘Man, this is what Mogadishu was like.’ ”  

Two World War II veterans in Congress, Stevens and his colleague Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), both said they enjoy military movies for their historical value and their ability to educate people about war.

“I think it’s important that people understand the impact of war, especially a World War,” Stevens said.

But given the subject matter, some congressional veterans said military movies unlock memories that are too painful.

“I generally don’t like war movies,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), who fought as a Marine in the Vietnam War. He saw “Platoon,” a 1986 Vietnam War movie, with a fellow Vietnam veteran, and recalled it being “painful.”

Gilchrest said, “It was way too moving and way too real.”  

Even though Kirk likes war movies, he said he has a hard time watching torture scenes, owing to a tough experience he had in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school.

Still, Kirk said the best military movies can answer the question people might have about military members: Why would anybody do something incredibly dangerous for their country?

Those movies that successfully answer that question show that the military is “about serving with someone you utterly depend on to do his job while you do yours to accomplish something important for the United States,” he said.

This year’s film festival includes premieres of movies about soldiers coming home from war, why we fight wars and screenings of classics like “The Men,” starring Marlon Brando.

For more information on the film festival, go to www.gifilmfestival.com .