GI Film Festival | Reel Stories! Real Heroes! Reel Stories. Real Heroes. Thu, 10 Nov 2016 06:49:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why Film Scoring Matters: An Interview with a Composer Mon, 03 Oct 2016 16:30:56 +0000
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By Alexina Beckley

Music has always played a vital role in the creation of a good movie. Ever since the days of silent films, when live musicians would play along with the action happing onscreen, scoring has been an integral tool utilized by filmmakers to further their story. Even with the addition of dialogue to movies, music still remains a powerful medium used for more than just accompaniment.

These days, it is nearly impossible to name a film that doesn’t utilize music in some way, and we can easily hum along to household tunes such as the Star Wars theme by John Williams or Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from The Breakfast Club, which represent some classic film moments where a piece of a score has stayed with us throughout the years. However, for every hit song that emerges from a movie soundtrack, there exist hundreds of other films where directors and composers have beautifully and effectively applied music to their films to enhance the storyline.

Stolen Silver at the US AF Academy


One advantage of having a strong score in your film is that oftentimes music can tell a story in ways that dialogue or visual cues cannot. Music has the ability to shape the mood of a scene, and can take a film from the average to the extraordinary. However, the best way to learn about film scores is to hear from a composer himself – musician and composer Dan Myers graciously shared some of his thoughts with me, and his insights will hopefully leave you excited to jump into the composing process for your next film.

Dan is a Chicago-based musician and songwriter who also composes for film, television, and the stage. His original songs can be heard in major motion pictures, digital animation features, and network television series. He has recently recorded and toured nationally with his Indie-folk band Stolen Silver, and is also a member of Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band. He has had the privilege of dueling on the fiddle with Charlie Daniels at the Kennedy Center, and performing for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Kuwait. To learn more about Dan and his work, check out the contact information at the end of this article.

Dan Myers

GIFF: When did you first know that you loved music? What drew you to composing for the screen?

DM: I was very fortunate to grow up with music educator parents and an extended family chock-full of performers, dancers and professional musicians. My grandfather used to play hooky from school in Chicago to sneak into the dance hall and watch the big bands of Benny Goodman and Count Basie rehearse. My father led bands and taught choral music, as did my mother. Music was always present in our life, and family gatherings were filled with vocal harmony and musical storytelling. I played violin in several school orchestras and was constantly fascinated by the countless textures and sonic combinations that can exist. My career as a singer-songwriter led me to my first gigs writing songs for films, which led me eventually to scoring. For me, writing music for the screen has been an inspiring way to collaborate with talented people in the process of telling a story. Music becomes a crucial part of something much bigger.


GIFF: Why do you think music is key to telling a good story?

DM: There certainly have been effective films in recent history that have not relied or even utilized music as a necessity to the narrative, but as a composer I’m always drawn to films that use music as an unseen character to evoke intrinsic emotion or build tension where needed. Sometimes a visual can say one thing and the music eludes to another, leading the viewer intentionally yet subtly to an intended outcome. Music can be felt subconsciously, and in regards to film this can achieve very powerful results.


GIFF: What is one of your favorite films that gets the composing right? What is it about this film and its score that makes it so appealing?

DM: Because it’s so hard to narrow down to just one, allow me to highlight three of my “top-ten.”

American Beauty (2001) Score by Thomas Newman

This score may have lost the Academy Award to The Red Violin, but it won in terms of originality, effectiveness and lasting influence. When I heard the complex rhythms, middle eastern percussion, mandolin, and treated piano, I knew this score (and its juxtaposition to the film itself) was breaking new ground. Newman is one of my favorite composers in the genre, and his music continually inspires me to try to push boundaries and take chances.

Psycho (1960) Score by Bernard Herrmann.

What can I say that hasn’t been said about this iconic score? I heard it first in high school and was immediately drawn to the tension, intricate orchestration, and terrifying alternative string writing. The shower scene has now become iconic, not only for its groundbreaking filming techniques but the indelible shrieking strings. Rumor has is that Herrmann had to convince Hitchcock to include the music in the scene because he preferred it without. Thank goodness it made the cut. Watch the driving scene with Janet Leigh in the beginning of the film again, and notice that your feelings of nervous apprehension stem from the scoring and not the visual. Perfectly executed.

Edward Scissorhands (1990) Score by Danny Elfman

I heard this score in the theater and loved it so intensely that I went out and immediately bought the soundtrack. There’s a reason many of the pieces are so often licensed for trailers and commercials. It’s truly timeless and evocative film music. All of the themes are instantly memorable, and the use of choir boys and Tchaikovsky-esque Christmas-like orchestrations are beautifully effective. Also included is a ton of low brass and Elfman’s signature circus-clown-polka textures to boot. I love this score!

Stolen Silver

GIFF: Can you describe the process that you go through when starting a new composing project for film?

DM: Generally, I meet with the director and we talk about the film, his/her goals musically and work to get our visions for the score in place. A spotting session usually follows where we watch the film (in its present state) and share ideas on how to hit certain accent points, address tempo, discuss mood shifts and basically get in line on how the scoring will begin to take shape. I’ll have suggestions and ideas, as will the director/producer, and we’ll come together on a direction forward. I’ll follow with mocking up scenes and getting feedback. If live players are used, I’ll book sessions and studio time, and it all begins to come together.


GIFF: For independent filmmakers on a limited budget – how can one afford a good composer, and what should they be looking for in a composer?

DM: There’s no doubt that a fully orchestrated score with live players is going to be the most expensive route. These days, with the vast array of amazing software and sample based technology we can achieve success together on the most limited of budgets. It’s all about what you as a filmmaker desire, and what your film essentially needs. Sometimes an effective score can be done with very little, and sometimes there needs to be funding acquired for generating the larger and more involved score a film needs. Either way, opting to create an original score for your film (regardless of scope) will only increase a film’s effectiveness and originality. Because of my involvement with veterans and active duty military, I’m totally open to field any music related questions that your readers may have.


To contact Dan for more information, email him at and make sure to check out his work at

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Top 5 Realistic Military Movies Wed, 10 Aug 2016 16:25:06 +0000
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By Joonsung Oh

Everyone knows that there is a bit of Hollywood inserted into most military movies.  But how does the average movie-goer know how to distinguish between what is real and what is movie magic?  We’ve compiled a list of our top 5 favorite films that are as close to real as you can get without having to put on a flak jacket.

blackhawk down

Black Hawk Down

Ridley Scott’s modern-day warfare drama focuses on a failed 1993 mission to take down Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aided.  Based on true events, the film demonstrates the harsh realities of war while capturing the camaraderie among the soldiers. The film was praised for its “…stylistic, fast-paced combat sequences – complete with POV gunner shots—that seem to thrust the audience right in the middle of the action.”


saving private ryan


Saving Private Ryan

Spielberg’s World War II drama has made its mark in the war movie genre, distinguishing itself from other films with its realistic battle scenes (the epic Normandy landing); so much so that many veterans of D-Day stepped away from the film for a duration of the landing scene. Tarantino and other filmmakers have lauded the film for its realistic capture of the difficulties and atrocities of war.


 rescue dawn

Rescue Dawn

Christian Bale, playing Navy Lieutenant Dieter Dengler, aids Steve Zahn, playing Air Force 1st Lieutenant Duane Martin, after escaping a POW camp during the Vietnam War. The film is based on Dengler’s actual experience, and Rescue Dawn authentically portrays his experience as a POW. To accurately capture his experience, the filmmakers shot scenes in Thailand jungles in order to show the humid and lush setting. Bale even lost a considerable amount of weight to play the POW.



thin red lineThe Thin Red Line

Director Terrence Malick’s film examines the Pacific theater of World War II, with a focus on the emotional state of US soldiers in a distant land.  The Thin Red Line shows realistic detailed scenes, such as soldiers throwing up before combat.  Starring Sean Penn and James Cavezial, the film captures the vulnerability, and bravery, of these young men in a time of war.


letters from iwo jima

Letters From Iwo Jima

Director Clint Eastwood’s film depicts the Japanese soldiers’ point of view during the Battle of Iwo Jima, which contrasts the American perspective shown in Eastwood’s earlier film Flags of Our Fathers. The film shows both the good and evil on both sides of the battle, while highlighting the human characteristics that all men possess. “Even Japan praised the film for its accurate depiction of Japanese soldiers and [1940s Japanese culture].”


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Future Actor Believes Communication Can Open Doors Tue, 09 Aug 2016 15:42:59 +0000
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by Joonsung Oh

A rising sophomore at the United States Military Academy, Cadet Marquis Watson brings excitement and creativity to the GI Film festival internship team. If he’s not rehearsing monologues, Marquis could be doing a variety of other activities, such as watching Friends, tweeting, or dancing. He also loves to sing which he dabbles in occasionally. It also wouldn’t be surprising if you heard Marquis singing in French; as a French language major, he enjoys studying the culture and practicing his ability to communicate with others. Marquis believes that learning another language can help you understand others and their cultures, which can open many doors.


Marquis definitely does not close any doors when it comes to providing unique answers about who is. For example, he stated that if he could be any animal, he’d be a turtle.  Like a turtle, Marquis can be fragile, yet tough; and believes that he will live a long and prosperous life.  Songs which describes his life, are Paramore’s “Ain’t it Fun” and Nicki Minaj’s “Moment for Life.” He believes the first captures the feeling of transitioning from high school to college, and the latter reminds him of the good times he had with his friends. If Marquis could be friends with, or at least meet, any historical figure, he would choose George Washington because he greatly admires the original trailblazing president as a leader and role model.



Hailing from the inner city of South Side Chicago, Marquis loves the endless amount of activities available and the interesting people residing in his hometown.  As a lover of theater and the arts, it makes sense that Marquis is a moviegoer. He’s a big fan of action/adventure movies, but Marquis also enjoys watching military movies. He loves Nick Castle’s Major Payne, a lighter comedic military movie.  Yet, Marquis’ favorite actors: Denzel Washington, Christian Bale, and Viola Davis, are not well-known for comedic roles. Marquis is also a big fan of Disney movies, especially The Good Dinosaur. He believes the movie has a great mix of emotions, and it reminds him of movies from back in the day.


Marquis believes that he will be able to apply what he learns through the internship to his future as an Army officer, and possibly to his pursuit of becoming a successful actor. He wants to gain a better understanding of how non-profit organizations run, and how military veterans can make a mark in the acting scene. When he graduates from the Academy, Marquis wants to branch Adjutant General and then pursue a masters of fine arts in theater. With his lively personality, warmth, and creativity, it would not be surprising to see him winning a Tony or Golden Globe the next time you turn on the television.


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Immigrating to the US Motivated Cadet to be High Achiever Tue, 09 Aug 2016 14:57:43 +0000
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By Stephanie Riley

Cadet Joonsung Oh was born in South Korea, immigrated to the United States when he was 3 years old, and has lived in New Jersey for most of his life. He lived in North Carolina for a year while his parents ran a Korean BBQ restaurant there. Joonsung will be starting his junior year at the United States Military Academy this fall.joon1

Oh heard about West Point through his parents and initially he was not too sure on attending. But after he did some research on the Academy and the Army, he became in love with the idea of serving others and standing for something bigger than himself. He strongly believes in the Academy’s mission, and he wants to create more opportunities for himself. Growing up, he realized how hard it was for his parents to raise him after immigrating to the States; and he did not want to create an additional financial burden for them, so he made the decision to attend West Point.

Not as a surprise, Joonsung’s major is English because he strongly believes it is the best major offered at the Academy and he “liked English growing up. All of [his] English teachers were great in high school and [he] thought [he] could use the opportunity as an English major to work on [his] communication and writing skills.” His favorite author is John Steinbeck and his favorite books are The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.


In his free time, he likes to swim, listen to music, read books, look up famous quotes, and watch motivating videos on YouTube as well as tv show The Office. He wants to branch Quartermaster because he’s interested in the logistics side of things and because the branch will allow him to participate in combat arms activities as well. He is not sure on if he wants to make a career out of the Army yet, so he wants his branch preference to be easily transferrable to the civilian world should he decide to get out of the Army after the required 5 years of active duty service. When he leaves or retires from the Army, he has aspirations to be a lawyer and to start a business, or to become an English professor.

CDT Oh has always been interested in films, as he considers them to be “an important part of [his] life,” because he used to watch them to get motivated for different events in his life.

Joonsung applied for this internship with the GI Film Festival because he not only thought it would be interesting, but also wanted to get an aspect of how the company runs and the management perspective of a non-profit organization. He feels as though he can advance the mission of the GI Film Festival by bringing a unique perspective to the table with his prior experiences. Through this internship, he plans to learn more about meeting new people, how organizations in and out of the Army function, and more about college life so he can make smarter and better decisions.


I was able to sit down with Joonsung and ask him a few questions.

SR: What is the weirdest thing about you?

JO: My humor, because I can brighten someone’s day.

SR: What is your favorite movie and what character do you feel like is parallel with your personality?

JO: Favorite movie- Pursuit of Happiness and Warrior.

Favorite character- Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in Batman because I want to be able to help people and stick to my core values just like Bruce Wayne. He also has two sides to him and I believe that shows that there’s more than one side to a person. You can be sociable, but can also be serious when need be.

SR: What is the best compliment you have ever received and why?

JO: The best compliment that I have ever received is that I’m very genuine as a person. That stands out to me because I hate it when I’m insincere to someone or fake. I try my best not to do that even though sometimes you’re forced into situations where you have to. But I respect people who are genuine and comfortable with who they are.

SR: What is your greatest strength and weakness?

JO: Strength- My biggest strength is being humble. It has helped me in everything and with relationships, if you’re not humble then you can’t see things from another person’s perspective and it helps your growth as a person to not be judgmental towards others. Another strength I have is communicating.

Weakness- Sometimes I can be too nice.

SR: Are you still learning who you are? What is the most valuable lesson that you have learned recently? And who did you learn it from if it applies?

JO: Yes I’m still learning about myself. Most recently I’ve realized how much influence I can have on people, specifically after being a beast squad leader. You don’t realize it until you’re in the position. My leadership detail was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life thus far. The highlight was when I did the Periodic Development Reviews with each of my squad members, and they thanked me for the development I offered them.

SR: What is the most memorable class you have ever taken and why?

JO: My Orchestra class in high school because of the conductor, Mr. Millar. He cared about our learning. My school had high expectations for its students, and he always reminded us that we were good kids regardless.

SR: Give me your best dad joke. Or best joke in general?

JO: My jokes are on the fly. They don’t buzz or have wings but they’re there. Can I give a mom joke instead?


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Poet, Mathematician and Inspiration: Meet Steph Tue, 09 Aug 2016 14:38:41 +0000
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By Marquis Watson

Want to know about an enthusiastic, relatable, and an ingenious member of the GI Film Festival internship team? Meet Stephanie (Steph) Riley, a rising sophomore at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Stephanie was born March 26, 1995 in Jacksonville, FL. What makes her unique is that Steph likes having a positive outlook on life, even during seemingly negative situations. Her goal in life is “to be successful,” which she defines as not a measure of material things or monetary worth, but simply inspiring others.


Steph likes pop music and pop artist Bruno Mars and also enjoys yoga, eating, sprinting, and lifting. Yet, she hates running and working out and has been recovering from a broken foot. Steph says she has a talent for being talentless, but added when pressed, that her talents could be flexibility and math.  But most importantly, Steph, likes to write poems. Her favorite original work, “Satisfaction,” is about empowering people and not letting others become an obstacle in reaching one’s life goal.

Like everyone, Steph has her favorites. Her favorite number is 4.  Her favorite actor is Kerry Washington, her favorite military movie is Forrest Gump however her favorite all-time movie is Seven Pounds because the plot is “absolutely amazing” and extremely emotional. Stephanie thinks that after watching the movie, if one does not shed a tear, he or she is quite possibly not human.


Steph’s personality is very blunt, bright, and warm all in one.  Steph showed her bluntness when asked which utensil best matched her personality.  She replied  a fork because she does not ease around like a spoon, nor does she “lightly stab” like a spork. She feels that like a fork, she is more direct. Being direct also makes for her drive.

In regards to shaping the characteristics of her personality, her life’s biggest challenge enabled her to trust other people and their help, make a joke when the mood seems to be dark, and tell someone when she needs or does not need something. Her biggest fear is disappointing her mother.  There is no surprise that this determined cadet’s favorite quote is by Winston Churchill, which says “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Stephanie says her dream that would be to live in Brazil where she could dabble in Portuguese.


Steph’s amazed by the unique route the GI Film Festival has taken to bridge the military-civilian gap through film. She feels that it is a great way to get awareness out to the public because everyone enjoys watches movies. She also loves that the GI Film Festival seeks to enhance the careers of military personnel who are thespians at heart. Stephanie is a true leader among her peers, constantly striving for success.  She hopes she can use what she gains from the GI Film Festival to help continue to bridge the gap between military and civilians.


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Exclusive: “Gotham” Actor J.W. Cortes Discusses Military’s Important Role in Hollywood Thu, 23 Jun 2016 02:11:13 +0000

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

GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Matt Cooper Thu, 19 May 2016 04:00:37 +0000
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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. 
GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Dewayne Bontrager Sat, 14 May 2016 12:00:48 +0000
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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. 

GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Rylan Tuohy Fri, 13 May 2016 13:15:36 +0000
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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.

GIFFX Filmmaker Interview: Tom Donahue Fri, 13 May 2016 13:00:12 +0000
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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:

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.