GI Film Festival | Reel Stories! Real Heroes! http://gifilmfestival.com Reel Stories. Real Heroes. Thu, 23 Jun 2016 20:10:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Exclusive: “Gotham” Actor J.W. Cortes Discusses Military’s Important Role in Hollywood http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/2016/interviews/exclusive-gotham-actor-j-w-cortes/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/2016/interviews/exclusive-gotham-actor-j-w-cortes/#respond Thu, 23 Jun 2016 02:11:13 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=19152

One of our favorite appearances during the GIFFX festival was by GI Film Festival friend and champion, actor J.W. Cortes.

J.W. not only attended the GI Film Festival’s 10th Annual Congressional Reception,”Veterans in Transition: Welcoming Our Warriors Home,” but he also performed a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem to a packed room of GIFF sponsors, filmmakers and special guests, including Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)
Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), and The Honorable Dr. David J. Shulkin.

Did we mention the multi-talented actor also served as moderator for GIFF’s  Saluting Women in Service Panel?

J.W. Cortes. Photo by Vithaya Phongsavan.
J.W. Cortes. Photo by Vithaya Phongsavan.

The former marine and NYC cop has infused his knack for heroism into a career in film.

You may know him for his former roles as Agent Suarez in NBC’s “The Blacklist” Agent Lewis in NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura” and Nico in “Sugarfields.”

However, he is quickly gaining fame for his recurring role as Detective Carlos Alvarez on Fox’s hit series “Gotham.”

GIFF sat down with J.W. Cortes to talk about his favorite military films, his role as Detective Alvarez on FOX’s hit prime-time series “GOTHAM,” and his advice to veterans looking to transition into the entertainment industry.

GIFF. Thank you J.W. Cortes for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your story with GIFF audiences. First, tell our readers how has your prior military experience prepared you for your role of “Detective Carlos Alvarez” on FOX’s hit prime-time series “GOTHAM?”

J.W. Spending over a decade (14 years) in the Marine Corps gave me tools to examine where I “fit” in this business and discipline to prepare, strategize and implement a game plan that’s constantly evolving and adapting. I believe that unique skill set does provide me a solid foundation to the artistic playing field. I find my military experiences influence how I audition, create performances that are memorable, speak to a range of audiences and simply remain focused and positive when in a ‘slower’ times.

On a more artistic level, whenever I can draw upon a real experience it’s always a win for me. Much of the training I did at William Esper studio, upon returning from deployment, does provide other tools to help me hone my craft. In the future, I hope to lend more of my training to my GOTHAM character “Alvarez” to truly reflect the comic book character as he was originally written.

As a former Marine, when was the moment that you knew you wanted to be in the film industry as both a filmmaker and actor.

J.W. Looking back at it now, I think I always knew that I had a really strong and genuine interest in pursuing the arts. I had spent so much time as a teenager thinking about what that could look and feel like, but for reasons beyond my control I felt I wasn’t quite ready to take the initial steps.The moment I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I had something artistic working inside of me was during a High School musical production of “The Wiz.” when I landed the role of, The Wiz.

But, it did take me going to Iraq for the 2003 invasion to fully come to grips with an understanding that life is short, we are only here for so long and dreams are meant to be pursued. Since Iraq I have very much lived with that constant reminder and tell others that there really is no better time than the present to follow their dreams.

What’s one of your favorite military films, and why?

J.W.  I believe every Marine could probably attest to the fact that “Full Metal Jacket” is one of the closest and most realistic portrayal in film of what it’s like to go through Marine Corps Recruit Training. It also helps to illustrate to someone who hasn’t gone through training why Marines are such motivated and disciplined individuals. I personally cannot begin to tell you how many times I have watched that film!

Over the years other favorites include “The Deer Hunter,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Black Hawk Down” and, most recently, “American Sniper” (Chris Kyle was a personal friend of mine).

Part of the reason I’ve chosen to work with organizations like Got Your 6 is because they believe, as do I, that films depicting the military, when done correctly, can have a tremendous positive impact.

In your opinion, why do military filmmakers/storytellers have an important role to play in the entertainment industry?

J.W. I believe that stories are the ammunition of life. They allow for us to see up close and personal what service members go through in addition to the impact of deployment on the family and community.

We have been at war now for over a decade and I think we will continue to learn more about what that has done to and for so many of our returning veterans. I cannot think of anyone better to share those stories than those who have lived through them.

Any advice you’d give to a veteran who is interested in pursuing a path into the entertainment/film industry?

J.W.  So much of what we as veterans have already experienced and learned by wearing the uniform does translate very well into what it takes to persevere in this industry. Just as you learned every minute detail about your MOS you can learn the crafts of the entertainment/film business, whether that be directing, writing, acting or producing. I would also remind the veteran that if they’re up to it, they can help share stories that educate and empower us, our families and our communities.

What can we expect from you in 2016? What projects are you working on?

J.W.  Season 3 of “GOTHAM” will go into production sometime in the summer and, like other “Gothamites,” I eagerly await to see what’s in store for Detective Alvarez. I am also shopping a spec script I wrote that is based on a book I’m currently writing that tells the story of a kid from Sunset Park, Brooklyn who went from the neighborhood stoop, to the sands of Iraq to Hollywood.

Other projects that will be out soon include the feature films “Sugarfields” and “Black Wake.”

View More Photos of J.W. Cortes at GIFFX 2016

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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Matt Cooper http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-matt-cooper/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-matt-cooper/#respond Thu, 19 May 2016 04:00:37 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=19069
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Richard Overton, at 109 years old, is the oldest living WWII veteran in the US. He lives alone, still drives, and has a 91 year old lady friend named Ms. Love. In this snapshot of his everyday life, we learn some of the secrets to his long life.

GI Film Festival sat down with the director, Matt Cooper about the film and why viewers should come see it at this year’s festival.

Where are you from and what is your film background?

I’m from a place called Friendwood, TX, just outside of Houston. I majored in film at Baylor University and then worked in sound and post-audio in Los Angeles for several years. I moved to Austin, Texas in 2009 to raise my family, and living back here has reignited my love of filmmaking. I’ve been working in film again for about the last 2 or 3 years.

Who are your biggest influences in film and why?
David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and John Carpenter. They each put story above all else, but manage to have a style all their own. They are trailblazers with a lot of imitators behind them (including me).

What was the hardest part about getting this film made?
Time and money! If there were enough of each we could have made it a feature!

What do you want viewers to take away with them after seeing your film?
I want them to appreciate their neighbors, the people around them in everyday life. Mr. Overton was just an unassuming character living down the street from our cinematographer, Rocky Conly. The two of them became friends and that’s how I was introduced to Mr. Overton. He’s a very humble man who would help anyone. I think his generosity to those around him has fueled his longevity. I also greatly admire his fortitude in fighting for a country who treated him like a 2nd or 3rd class citizen. Still, he remains as optimistic, happy, and positive a person you could ever hope to meet. He also lets us know that he eats ice cream every day, so it can’t be all that bad for you!

What is a fun fact about you that would surprise people?
I, too, like to eat ice cream every day.

Why should someone come see your film at the GI Film Festival?

Our documentary is not a traditional one. It’s not a chronological biography. It’s simply a snapshot of a human who is older than most of us can imagine, yet he’s not stopping, he’s not giving up, and he’s not making excuses. At 109 (now 110 since we wrapped filming), he has more life in him than most people I know.

Mr. Overton is playing at the Angelika on May 28, 2016.  Click here for tickets. 
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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Dewayne Bontrager http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/18958/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/18958/#respond Sat, 14 May 2016 12:00:48 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=18958
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A young boy has to find a way to say goodbye to his deceased father who died fighting for our country. Inspired by a combination of numerous final letters (from several wars) written to families knowing that the chances of returning was very low. Starring 12 year old Royce Mann with the voice of Drew Giles.

The GI Film Festival interviewed the director, Dewayne Bontrager about the challenges of making this short film.

 

Goodman’s Salute is playing at the Angelika on May 28, 2016.  Click here to purchase tickets. 

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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Rylan Tuohy http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-rylan-tuohy/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-rylan-tuohy/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 13:15:36 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=18879
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Filmmaker Rylan Tuohy has two films in our festival this year. Naptown Funk and To Those Who Serve.

 

Naptown Funk - Multi Films

 

Naptown Funk

 

It’s Saturday, and the Midshipmen have liberty. Let’s hit downtown Annapolis. $0 budget. All Midshipmen cast and crew.

Seen as a potential collaboration between the U.S. Naval Academy and the city of Annapolis, Maryland, “Naptown Funk” is a remix of the wildly-popular “Uptown Funk feat. Bruno Mars” by Mark Ronson.

The music video was filmed with an entire cast and crew of Midshipmen attending the Naval Academy. The city was gracious to waive all permit fees and allow Rylan and the crew to film on Maryland Avenue. The total budget was $0, as the equipment, choreography, and music production were all from the Midshipmen themselves.

With only four hours to shoot, the Naptown Funk crew were able to film the last shot with four minutes remaining. After the online premiere of the video only six days after filming, the video reached over a million views in only six days. Following, CNN and Fox News covered Naptown Funk on national television with a live interview on Fox & Friends. The video now has over 4.6M views on YouTube.

To Those Who Serve - Multi Films

 

To Those Who Serve

In an effort to reflect the power of service through generations, To Those Who Serve hopes to answer the question of what ‘service’ means to those who served and are serving. Following its online premiere, the video was aired on CBS Sports during the Veteran’s Classic.

 

The GI Film Festival sat down with the director of these two films, Rylan Tuohy about the challenges about making each of these films.
Where are you from and what is your film background?

I’m a 22 year-old from Greenville, Kentucky; a small coal-town on the western side of the state. Though I have never had a film course or any formal instruction, I’ve been into film for 8 years and have learned by just doing. Instead of getting a film degree, I decided to pursue an applied physics degree at the U.S. Naval Academy, primarily out of curiosity of understanding film from a technical and scientific side.

At the Naval Academy, I created online content called “spirit spots.” These short videos were typically comedy sketches or music videos and have garnered millions of views on YouTube, and even got me a live interview on “Fox & Friends.”

 

Who are your biggest influences in film and why?

Though I began my new media career in online content, I look to directors and cinematographers in the film industry for inspiration. I love the natural and spontaneous approach to filming, like DP Emmanuel Lubezki in The Tree of Life or Director/DP Matthew Heineman in his documentary Cartel Land. Yet, I also enjoy the stylistic and precise approach to filming like Director Sam Mendes and DP Conrad Hall in Road to Perdition or DP Roger Deakins in No Country for Old Men. Lastly, I thoroughly enjoy the creativity and storytelling in Christopher Nolan’s work, from The Prestige to Interstellar.

 

What was the hardest part about getting this film made?

In Naptown Funk, the most difficult part was the fact that it was produced on a $0 budget and with no official crew. Everything completed was with the help from friends and fellow Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. From equipment to performers, everything was in-house. Being resourceful and creative in order to bring a high-value production to a $0 budget was the key to completing the project.

In To Those Who Serve, the most challenging part was finding the service members within the video. Each brings a unique perspective of service to the screen as they vary in all aspects. I was fortunate to have found them.

 

What do you want viewers to take away with them after seeing your film?

Naptown Funk was a unique opportunity to display the incredible relationship between the city of Annapolis and the U.S. Naval Academy. The video is emblematic of the spirit and energy that is in the town, and I hope people see and feel that too.

In To Those Who Serve, I wanted to answer the question “Why do people serve?” Though the question has many answers, I hope my audience allows a moment of reflection to ask the question to themselves.

 

What is a fun fact about you that would surprise people?

I taught myself to hip-hop dance from YouTube. America’s Got Talent asked me to audition for the show in 2011 in Nashville. It was a great time!

 

Why should someone come see your films at the GI Film Festival?

For the past 4 years as an active-duty service member, I have approached filmmaking in a unique and different way. Each video is an extension of a vision and I think my time in the service has allowed me to approach storytelling through visuals in a creative way.

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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Tom Donahue http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-tom-donahue/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-tom-donahue/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 13:00:12 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=18900
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The U.S. military faces a mental health crisis of historic proportions.  Thank You for Your Service takes aim at our superficial understanding of war trauma and the failed policies that result.  Director Tom Donahue (Casting By) interweaves the stories of four Iraq War veterans with candid interviews of top military and civilian leaders.  Observing the systemic neglect, the film argues for significant internal change and offers a roadmap of hope.  Interviews include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, Generals David Petraeus and Loree Sutton, Sebastian Junger, Nicholas Kristof, Dexter Filkins, Senator Patty Murray, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Colonels Lawrence Wilkerson and Dave Sutherland.

The GI Film Festival sat down with the director, Tom Donahue to talk about the making of his film.

Where are you from and what is your film background?

I was raised in Red Hook, a small town in upstate New York.

 

Who are your biggest influences in film and why?

My biggest influences are Ernst Lubitsch, Mary Pickford, John Huston, Barbara Kopple, Peter Davis, Liz Garbus, Alex Gibney and Martin Scorsese.

 

What was the hardest part about getting this film made?

The most difficult part was not actually in making the film but the reaction to some in the military in not wanting to confront this issue at all (This is certainly not true of all) –  I was confronted with this disappointing fact when the Marine Corps Museum turn us down to do a screening there after initially agreeing – and without giving us a reason for their change of heart.  I can only believe they are in denial about the need for adequate mental health support for the Marines.  This is not only sad and tragically disappointing but tragic because there are lives and families at stake in turning their heads away from this issue.

It also hard to see articles like this one in USA Today last Friday proving the same thing:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/05/05/study-slams-pentagon-failing-end-stigma-mental-health-counseling/83922456/

I commend the GI Film Festival for standing up for our heroes and addressing this issue by programming our film!

 

What do you want viewers to take away with them after seeing your film?

That there is a need for citizens to take action, to get the military to pay attention and actually make the mental health of its troops a priority.

 

What is a fun fact about you that would surprise people?

I tried to join the Navy when I was 18 but couldn’t because of my asthma!  Not sure that’s a fun fact.

 

Why should someone come see your film at the GI Film Festival?

I believe that as American citizens we have a responsibility to not look away at the issue of mental health in the military  but must confront it head on.

 

Thank You For Your Service plays at the Angelika on May 28, 2016. Click here for tickets. 

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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Jake Hansen http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-jake-hansen/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-jake-hansen/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 12:45:12 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=18906
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“Outpost” is the violent tale of the first colonists marooned on Mars and the constant struggles they face while terraforming this unforgiving terrain and laying the foundation for a new society; as broken and hostile as it may be.

The year is 2157. Fifteen years ago, the Newmont Gordon Corporation (NGC) spearheaded the colonization efforts of Mars with their hugely controversial initiative to “Reform Through Terraform” by sending thousands of Earth’s prisoners (known on the red planet as Transits) to breathe life into this barren soil in exchange for their freedom.

The Transits’ days  are long and arduous, their living and work conditions far beyond hazardous and the promise of emancipation nothing more than a bill of goods. Even a blind person could see they were never sent here to eventually be turned loose.   There is no reform. No redemption. The only thing this chaos will bring is more chaos; and it’s for damn sure that none of these poor bastards are getting through this project alive. Transit or not.  The Marshals, Guards, Medical Staff and Contractors overseeing this remote site that is Pathfinder One Transitional Reform Colony are just as expendable. Out here, on this rock, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you did on Earth, where you’re from or why you’re here – willing or not. It matters even less what side of the law you favor. Good, indifferent or just plain vicious – you’re a canary in this coal mine all the same.   

The company and bureaucrats always had an agenda. With the terraforming nearing completion and the environment stabilizing, it’s time to eliminate the guinea pigs and build Mars the way it was always intended. It’s time to let the animals destroy themselves and save corporate the hassle.    Marshals. Transits. Civilians. All with their own modus operandi. All searching for hope in a hopeless world. Burnt down to their most primal and visceral needs, every last individual on this forsaken planet is caught in the eye of the firestorm as this tumultuous social, economic and political revolution reaches its true breaking point.    The end of the beginning. The beginning of the end. Either way, this is the true meaning of havoc. And if you’re not hurting out here, that’s only because you’re dead. Welcome to Pathfinder.

 

The GI Film Festival interviewed Jake Hansen about filming this out of this world adventure.

Outpost is playing at the Angelika on May 28, 2016. Click here for tickets. 

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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Mark Fastoso http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-mark-fastoso/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-mark-fastoso/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 12:00:03 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=18758
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On July 18, 1965, U.S. Navy Commander Jeremiah Denton took off from the aircraft carrier USS Independence leading a 28-plane mission over the city of Thanh Hoa in North Vietnam. Denton’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire during the attack, and for the next eight long years, he would battle the North Vietnamese as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

As the senior American officer at the prison, Denton was forced by the North Vietnamese to participate in a press conference and told he must say the POWs were being treated well. Looking haggard, weak and beaten from the severe punishment he had undergone, Denton took advantage of that opportunity, however, to send a secret message home, blinking out the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code. In this new APT original film, JEREMIAH, family, friends, and fellow POWs help tell the story of this American hero who led the way for prisoners in Hanoi and returned from Vietnam to become a U.S. Senator from Alabama. Six of Denton’s children are interviewed: Jeremiah III, James, Don, Mike,

In this new APT original film, JEREMIAH, family, friends, and fellow POWs help tell the story of this American hero who led the way for prisoners in Hanoi and returned from Vietnam to become a U.S. Senator from Alabama. Six of Denton’s children are interviewed: Jeremiah III, James, Don, Mike, Mary and Madeleine. Other interviewees include Senate staffer Joel Lisker, who worked for Denton; Alvin Townley, author of Defiant; and Heath Hardige Lee, who is writing a history of the POW wives and the POW/MIA movement. Along with Denton, the three veterans interviewed in the film – Robert Shumaker, James Muligan and George Coker – were part of the Alcatraz Eleven, a group of hardline resistors that the Vietnamese removed from the Hanoi Hilton and sent to a worse prison that the POW’s named Alcatraz. There they spent two and a half years in solitary confinement in cells that were 3 1/2 feet wide and 9 feet tall with solid walls and a solid door.

Along with Denton, the three veterans interviewed in the film – Robert Shumaker, James Muligan and George Coker – were part of the Alcatraz Eleven, a group of hardline resistors that the Vietnamese removed from the Hanoi Hilton and sent to a worse prison that the POW’s named Alcatraz. There they spent two and a half years in solitary confinement in cells that were 3 1/2 feet wide and 9 feet tall with solid walls and a solid door.

The interviews also describe what was happening back home to Denton’s wife, Jane, and their seven children. Jane Denton managed to overcome her grief at his imprisonment by becoming an activist and helping to start the POW/MIA Movement which was partially responsible for the Vietnamese ending their program of torture.

One of the challenges JEREMIAH’s producer, Mark Fastoso, dealt with in the program was showing viewers what conditions were like for the POWs. Fastoso asked skilled theater designer Paige Hathaway to create miniatures of the hallways and cells of the North Vietnamese prisons, and director of photography Dennis Boni made them look like the real thing.

 

The GI Film Festival interviewed the director, Mark Fastoso, about the challenges of making the film.

 

JEREMIAH, directed by Mark Fastoso, is playing at the Angelika May 29, 2016. Click here for tickets. 

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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: BJ Golnick http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-bj-golnick/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-bj-golnick/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 04:33:31 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=18918
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After years of battle on the frontlines in Afghanistan, An American Marine returns home to mend a broken relationship with his dying father. He carries with him the haunting memories of war and a promise he kept to a fallen brother in arms. He may never be able to make peace with what he has seen and done overseas, but if he can make things right with the last living member of his family, maybe a piece of what he once was will return to him.

 

The GI Film Festival interview the director, BJ Golnick about the film.

 

 

Almost Home is playing at the Angelika on May 28, 2016.  Click here for tickets. 

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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Daniel Wyss http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/giff-news/uncategorized/giffx-filmmaker-interview-daniel-wyss/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/giff-news/uncategorized/giffx-filmmaker-interview-daniel-wyss/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 04:00:54 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=18954
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Forced Landing - Multi Films

 

During the Second World War, more than 100’000 foreign soldiers were interned in Switzerland. French, Polish, English, Russian, Italian, Germans who fled combat found a save haven in neutral Switzerland. According to the international conventions signed before the war, the Swiss government had to accept these soldiers (unlike civilians, for instance the Jews, which could be sent back to occupied territories) and keep them interned until the end of the hostilities. These soldiers were held in barracks and used as helping hands for agriculture and industries. Officers were not compelled to forced labour and stayed in unoccupied mountain hotels. These rather mild detention conditions could become nightmarish for those who tried to escape. The escapees were sent to the camp of Wauwilermoos near Lucerne. This military prison was under the command of André Béguin, a known crook and member of a right wing movement. He imposed extremely harsh detention conditions. In April 2014, eight survivors of this camp received the Prisoner of War Medal, thus being recognized for the suffering they endured during their imprisonment. This will be the first time that this medal is granted to soldiers that were held prisoners in a friendly country. This is the story – part of our history – which this film tells.

 

The GI Film Festival sat down with the director, Daniel Wyss, to talk about making this film.

 

 

Forced Landing screens at the Angelika on May 29, 2016.  Click here for tickets. 

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GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Stephanie McBain http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-stephanie-mcbain/ http://gifilmfestival.com/2016/gi-film-festival/giffx-filmmaker-interview-stephanie-mcbain/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 04:00:45 +0000 http://gifilmfestival.com/?p=18951
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Embedded shares the story of a military wife adjusting to the transition of her husband. It has been 3 years since Sergeant Drake Baker has returned to civilian life. Over the years, Drake develops an alcohol addiction to help cope with his PTSD and aid in his attempt to live a ‘normal’ life with his wife, Ana and their young son, Noah. But tonight Ana has had enough. She confronts Drake about his alcohol dependency and the pain it has caused her and Noah. Now Drake much choose between the struggles from his past and a future with his family.

The GI Film Festival sat down with the director, Stephanie McBain to discuss the challenges of making Embedded.

 

 

Embedded is playing at the Angelika on May 29, 2016.  Click here for tickets.  

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