By Rick Allen, CEO, SnagFilms
We need neither the nightly news nor the great HBO series The Pacific to remind us of the painful mix of horror and boredom that is the daily lot of those who serve our country in wartime. We expect warriors to summon heroism as easily as snapping a salute, but even the safest civilian realizes instinctively that it isn’t so simple. And we know the demands that service also places on families of those in action – or headed to or returning from the fight. For both warriors and families, across seven decades, the USO has created oases of normalcy in a world turned upside down.
Entertainment has always been a key element of the USO’s approach, and now a tradition that has stretched from Bob Hope and Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, to Kid Rock and Master P and Carrie Underwood, is adding a new online element. The USO and SnagFilms are working together to bring the best in documentary films to the more than 130 USO Centers around the world. We have pulled together a special “USO Theater” that will live on computers at USO Centers, and can be shared among service members, families and communities, and placed on blogs and facebook pages. Just as in a real theater, viewers will be able to see full length films – this time, for free. We’ll swap out the films regularly with others from our library of over 1150 titles. Below you’ll see this week’s selections:
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I’d welcome thoughts of films we should offer. We’ve approached this in the way that the USO has traditionally viewed entertainment – primarily as a release and an opportunity to focus on something other than the central mission. So although SnagFilms has terrific films on all aspects of our current action in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts, the USO Theater will offer other topics. We’re particularly pleased to include a world premiere of a movie that is quintessentially American and yet features an intense competition that’s as far removed from combat as you can imagine: fantasy baseball. The film is Fantasyland; it’s from the producers of Hotel Rwanda, Year of the Yao and An Education. It is a hilarious look at a growing pastime – more than 34 million Americans have played fantasy sports – through the eyes of a young Wall Streeter for whom success in a legendary pros league overwhelms every other aspect of his life. You’ll see that less than a 90 foot base-path separates “fan” from “fanatic”.
We’re also offering Return to Tarawa. It’s the only military-themed film in this month’s USO Theater, but we violate our general rule for a reason: Return to Tarawa not only covers why we fought one of the bloodiest engagements in WWII, but what we must do now. It’s the story of, Leon Cooper, who served in the Pacific campaign and is waging a new battle to identify and repatriate the remains of his fallen comrades. Thanks to Discovery’s Military Channel, we first showed Leon’s story last Memorial Day; since then, it’s been not only one of our most-viewed films, but has also led to Congressional action asking the Department of Defense to bring these fallen home. Return to Tarawa reminds us that we owe a societal debt to those who defend us … and proves the point that you should never mess with a vet!
In WWII alone, more than 1.5 million volunteers supported the troops through USO, including giving more than 420,000 performances. That tradition is very much alive today, and with the many new initiatives led by its President, Sloan Gibson, including the new Wounded Warrior Center at Walter Reed, the USO will continue to connect our service members and their families with the communities they defend. At SnagFilms, we are proud to work with them. We hope our USO Theater will top that 420,000 performance mark before this Memorial Day – and by sharing films through the USO and with one another, we will entertain those who serve, and energize those who are protected. Think of it as our digital care-package and enjoy.