Celebrating 10 years of military filmmaking, the GI Film Festival continues to receive accolades under the leadership of its co-founder, U.S. Army Veteran Laura Law-Millett.
The GI Film Festival (also known as GIFF) is a nonprofit educational organization committed to sharing military experiences through the medium of film. Inaugurated in 2007, the festival welcomes all experience levels, from new filmmakers to seasoned directors and producers, and features three main categories of military film: feature, documentary and shorts. Known as the “nation’s most significant venue for the screening of military films” and called “Sundance for the troops” by Bloomberg News, GIFF 2016 will take place from May 21 to 29 in the Washington D.C. area and, as described on GIFF’s website, promises to be the “biggest and best GI Film Festival” since the organization’s inception.
And the GI Film Festival’s off-screen story – the narrative audiences don’t always see – is just as powerful as the films themselves. That’s where U.S. Army Veteran Laura Law-Millett, co-founder and director of the GI Film Festival, comes into focus.
Law-Millett served for 18 years as an Army officer in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve, serving in Maryland, D.C., Colorado, Turkey, Bosnia, Korea and Germany. In 2006, she was selected for the Army Reserve’s national recruitment campaign. And if her military resume wasn’t impressive enough, Law-Millett has a long-standing history of service-oriented work, having volunteered with the American Legion’s Auxiliary Girls State program, Junior Achievement and Got Your Six. In 2010, Law-Millett was awarded the American Legion National Commander’s PR Award – an honor she shares with late first lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, news anchor Tom Brokaw and ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff – and in 2013, she received NBC Universal’s Greater Good Award.
Law-Millett’s involvement with the GI Film Festival began ten years ago, in 2006, when she and partner Brandon Millett founded the project after recognizing a lack of diversity in how military service members were portrayed in film. As Millett, interviewed by The Federalist in May 2015, explained: “[There] were going to be a bunch of films coming out of Hollywood that weren’t necessarily going to be portraying GIs in the most positive light.” So the couple set out to share narratives imbued with authentic, nuanced military experiences, which – as stated by Millett and Law-Millett in their “Founder’s Message” – allowed viewers to see “the life of the American warrior from a variety of perspectives; from the active duty service member inside the arena of war, to the wounded warrior struggling to overcome their disability, to the military spouse at home waiting for their loved one to return.”
The festival started in 2007 as a three-day screening event, featuring 20 films chosen from 85 submissions. Last year’s GI Film Festival was noticeably larger: a week-long event hosted at multiple venues, featuring films covering nearly all genres and all major U.S. conflicts, complete with workshops, red carpet events, VIP parties and celebrity guests. Now, GIFF boasts supporters like actor Gary Sinise, an Academy Award nominee for his performance as Vietnam veteran and amputee Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump; actress Glenn Close, an Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner; and a host of veterans, leaders and actors in the film industry eager to reflect military experiences.
In this year’s 10th anniversary edition, events kick off early next month with The GI Film Festival Cinematic Salute to the Troops on Thursday, April 7. Two short documentaries will be featured as part of the event: Climb, the story of a double amputee’s journey for charity and The Real Inglorious Bastards, a story about a World War II veteran’s incredible undercover mission in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Films screened at the festival have gone on to receive critical acclaim and far-reaching accolades, winning Academy and Emmy awards and airing on prestigious networks like Showtime, HBO, PBS and the Military Channel. One such film is OPERATION: Emotional Freedom, a 2011 GI Film Festival submission that, since its premiere, continues to inspire conversations about the treatment of post-traumatic stress (PTS). The film served as a catalyst for an international Awareness Day event about PTS that year, and has been screened during presentations to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs as a successful illustration of related therapy practices.
Part of the GI Film Festival’s power, according to Law-Millett, is its ability to address the nuanced and deeply personal narratives that shape one’s military service. In a 2015 interview with The Washington Times, Law-Millett said, “We don’t shy away from any of the horrors of war or sacrifices that our service people face. And we do have a lot of films that deal with [PTS], coming home and [re-]integration.” Law-Millett hopes such narratives offer service members some sort of catharsis, since their personal stories are reflected on-screen with the meticulous consideration rarely seen in mainstream films. And, since many of the films screened at GIFF focus on characters actively seeking help for both psychological and physical wounds, Millett and Law-Millett hope the festival can provide positive examples for servicepersons struggling with trauma of their own.
A profound connection to military stories told through film is what makes Law-Millett so invested in the GI Film Festival. As she said, “It’s just an extension of how I can honor the people who serve and protect our country so I want to continue doing that.”
Image Credit: https://gifilmfestival.com/about/