WASHINGTON – Film and military buffs viewed dozens of movies about military life and culture at the sixth annual GI Film Festival in Washington, D.C., which wrapped up May 20. A rundown of the critics’ favorites, and their trailers:
Military Channel Award: “The Borinqueneers” Produced, written and directed by Noemi Figueroa Soulet
This film about the all-Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment, the only all-Hispanic unit in the history of the Army, has been making rounds and winning awards at film festivals since 2008. The Borinqueneers – whose nickname comes from “Borinquen,” the word the native peoples gave Puerto Rico, meaning “land of the brave lord” – fought meritoriously in WWI, WWII and Korea.
Using archival footage and interviews, the film explores history of the unit, including a mass court-martial of almost 100 soldiers during the Korean War.
Best Narrative Short: “8:46” Written and directed by Jennifer Gargano
“8:46” follows an ensemble of characters – firefighters, moms, cops, family men, young people – leading up to the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in 2001 and showing how they cope in the immediate aftermath.
A portion of the profits made from the film will go to Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health support for those affected by 9/11.
Best Short Short: “Jockstrap Raiders” By Mark Nelson
It’s the dark days of WWI, and the Kaiser is scratching at Britain’s door. The only ones who can save the day are a group of misfits from Leeds, England, whose cartoonish abnormalities barred them from military service.
“Cartoonish” being the operative word. Director Mark Nelson made this high-flying computer-animated cartoon over the course of five years as part of his thesis at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Best Documentary Short: “Survive. Recover. Live” Directed by Ivan Kander
Director Ivan Kander begins the film with a story about how he thought he and his pal Rob Jones would go on making goofy, low-budget videos forever. “Times change,” Kander narrates. Jones joined the Marines and in July 2010, an IED blast in Afghanistan took both his legs.
The film follows Jones’ injury and recovery, but he’d say he isn’t much worse for the wear, and makes for an inspiring subject. He’s also very entertaining: When he first got his wheelchair, he promptly figured out how to perform tricks on it. When President Barack Obama came to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to give Jones a Purple Heart, Jones offered the president a Mountain Dew and asked if he’d “do the Dew.”
Best International Film: “Bridges” Directed by Miguel Angelo Pate
The film bills itself as a “living graphic novel.” Indeed, the film noir style combined with living actors has a distinct comic book feel, reminiscent of 2005’s “Sin City.”
“Bridges” follows American WWII bomber pilot Saul Bridges, who, after getting shot down over Berlin, is taken in by a 16-year-old girl and her little brother. Bridges survives the war and returns to Berlin flying goods into the blockaded city as part of the 1948 Berlin Airlift.
When dense fog forces his plane down, he finds himself back in Berlin, but this time embroiled in a dangerous plot to sell goods from the airlift on the black market and to the Soviets.
Best Documentary Feature: “Lost Airmen of Buchenwald” Directed by Mike Dorsey
“Lost Airmen of Buchenwald” tells the harrowing story of 166 Allied airmen who were captured and sent to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Through interviews with surviving members of the group, the documentary follows them from their days hiding with the French Resistance to their struggle to survive Buchenwald.
Best Narrative Feature: “Memorial Day” Directed by Sam Fischer
Kyle is about to return to combat in Iraq, and he’s explaining to a doctor why he’s so compelled to collect souvenirs from the war. When he was a kid, Kyle explains, he approached his grandfather, Bud, with the contents of Bud’s footlocker, which was stuffed with mementos of WWII. Bud was reluctant to share his story, but struck a deal with his grandson: “Pick any three objects, and I’ll tell you the story behind each one.”
Fast forward to the present, after Kyle returns from Iraq, and Kyle is walking into a Minnesota forest, gun in hand, still wrestling with his experience at war.
Featuring Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell (Best Supporting Actor, “Babe,” 1995) as Bud, “Memorial Day” is the story of a grandfather and grandson. Both saw war: one in Europe, the other in Iraq. Both collect souvenirs from battle. Both grapple with the burden of their memories.
Founders Choice Award: “The Red Machine” Written and directed by Stephanie Argy and Alec Boehm
This heist caper is set in Washington at the height of the Great Depression. A roguish young thief is forced to help an icy and mysterious Navy spy steal a high-tech and top-secret device that the Japanese military is using to encrypt its communications.
During the mission, which is complicated by the spy’s dark past in Tokyo, the two discover that they are pawns in a larger, much more dangerous game.
“Here’s a film with an elegant simplicity,” Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Not a shot doesn’t do its work. It may remind you of a ’40s B crime movie, and I mean that as a compliment.”
Best Student Film: “Stateside” (No trailer available) Directed by Jacob J. Tanenbaum
In this WWII movie, Rose has been taking care of the house for the past three years while Frank was off at war. During that time, their son died. When Frank finally returns after being injured, the death mars what should have been a happy homecoming. Frank and Rose must deal with the fact that they could never mourn the loss of their son together.
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