GI Film Festival: ‘Heroes Then and Now’ and Awards Announced

Saturday night the GI Film Festival continued its weeklong run at the Old Town Theater with huge VIPs in attendance. GIFF welcomed actor Adam Driver of the HBO Hit Girls and soon starring in Star Wars, director of Lone Survivor Peter Berg (and his son), New York Times best selling author of Lone Survivor and Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, and actress Michelle Monaghan of Mission Impossible and of her film premiere at the GI Film Festival Ft. Bliss.

Brandon Law, Laura Law-Millett, Peter Berg, and Marcus Luttrell. Photo by Vithaya Photography.
Brandon Law, Laura Law-Millett, Peter Berg, and Marcus Luttrell. Photo by Vithaya Photography.

I asked Marcus Luttrell about his thoughts on the Veterans Administration (VA) controversy. He believes it is, “a big animal and firing General (retired) Shinseki will not change it. We’ve had the VA since the Civil War? It is a huge bureaucracy. I myself use private medicine. Nothing is going to change until things boil over and people have had enough.” Luttrell gave props to director Peter Berg for putting up with him during the filming of Lone Survivor because he knew it wasn’t easy to deal with him. Berg in return remarked how Luttrell steadfastly believed in this movie and convinced him there was a market for this patriotic film. Luttrell was right. The movie was a HUGE hit and ranked number two at the box office for the month it opened. Luttrell shared there was no agenda or propaganda for Lone Survivor. He wanted people to know the true story and honor his comrades and the family members by sharing the story.

Actress Michelle Monaghan shared she was, “So proud to debut her movie Ft. Bliss at GIFF and share your (military) story. Ft. Bliss is my passion project.”

Michelle Monaghan. Photo by  Vithaya Photography.
Michelle Monaghan. Photo by Vithaya Photography.

Adam Driver was awarded the Veterans in Entertainment Award. Driver was a United States Marine Corps infantryman. He gave an impassioned speech about acting and how it tied into the military. He found leaving the military to be abrupt, but he knew he wanted to try acting. He was willing to live in Central Park and eat berries if he had to. He shared that acting and the military can be at polar opposites, but in actuality they are not. Acting is like the military in that you have a role with in a team that requires discipline and forced intimacy. Military Greek generals like Sophocles wrote plays, which tied into the military’s stories. It is important to put words to feelings. The power of the self-expression is vital. It is important to share the collective experience.

The first film shown for the night was The Knee Deep Sailor by returning GI Film alumni Tyler Elliott. When Elliott was at the GI Film Festival in 2011 in Washington, D.C. he interviewed WWII veteran Bob Autry who recounted his war experience invading Sicily with the 4th Naval Battalion. His interview he turned into the film The Knee Deep Sailor. The movie is fascinating. It is so important to capture these memories before most of our WWII veterans are gone. Mr. Autry has since passed away.

Adam Driver and Travis Mills. Photo by Vithaya Photography.
Adam Driver and Travis Mills. Photo by Vithaya Photography.

The second film shown was Forgotten Flag Raisers by Dustin Spence. While many of us know of the famous Battle at Iwo Jima flag raisers, documented in bronze outside of Arlington Cemetery, there was another flag raising at Iwo Jima that precedes it. The U.S. Marine Corps has not officially recognized the original flag raising at Iwo Jima. Dustin Spence has spent several years painstakingly researching and interviewing family members and the original flag raisers to get the truth. He presents his evidence to the U.S. Marine Corps historian at the end, but they still haven’t change course in recognizing the original flag raisers. The significance of the original flag raisers is huge as it showed they had captured that territory and it was a treacherous journey.

Hopefully, the U.S. Marine Corps will eventually recognize the original flag raisers. In attendance was one of the widows of the original flag raisers who is also featured in the film. Every day she puts the American flag up just like her husband did and she takes it down every night like her husband did.

During the final part of the evening, the GI Film Festival announced its award winners. Co-founder Laura Law-Millett stated the applications to the GI Film Festival was up 25% this year and it was eventually going to be too hard for her and her husband to watch all the films!

First up was the Concerned Veterans of America (CVA) video contest, presented by veteran Pete Hegseth. CVA asked for videos showcasing veterans experience at the VA. The winner is a veteran from San Diego who said the VA has helped him deal with PTSD with their group counseling. He lost his marriage and almost his life to PTSD.


Discovery Communications presented the VA American Heroes Channel Award to Forgotten Flag Raisers by Dustin Spence.

Other Awards:
Best Original Screenplay: Christmas Leave by David Brock.
Best Music Video: Nothing Real by Reed Simonsen.
Best Short Short (15 minutes or less): The Knee Deep Sailor by Tyler Elliott.
Best Student Film: Kingdom Coming by Alex Fofnoff.
Best International Film: Last Call by Camille Delamarre.
Best Documentary Short: Travis: A Soldier’s Story by Jonathon Link.
Best Narrative: Present Trauma by Mark D. Manalo.
Best Feature Documentary: Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power by Michael Pack.
Best Dramatic Feature: Field of Lost Shoes by Sean McNamara.
Best Narrative Feature Film: Ft. Bliss with Michelle Monaghan.
Founder’s Choice Award: Riding My Way Back by Robin Fryday, Peter Rosenbaum.
Veterans in Entertainment Award: Adam Driver.
GI Hero Award: Marcus Luttrell.


The GI Film Festival is being held from May 19-25, 2014 at Old Town Theater-815 1/2 King Street, in Old Town Alexandria, VA. The phone number is (703)-884-1040.



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