Announcing This Year’s GI Film Festival!

USO CEO & President Sloan Gibson greets actor Faizon Love at the ON PATROL launch party screening of Taking Chance at 2009's GI Film Festival.

The GI Film Festival (GIFF) is back in DC for this fourth annual event designed specifically to “celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the American military through the medium of film.”

Last year saw the premiere of Taking Chance, a film starring Kevin Bacon that is inspired by the true events surrounding one Marine’s death and the military escort officer who returns him home.  That screening kicked off the official launch of ON PATROL – The Magazine of the USO.  The film Valkyrie also received a special screening just for wounded warriors courtesy of USO of Metropolitan Washington.

This year’s festival includes an equally fantastic lineup, including USO favorite Gary Sinise’s “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good,” which chronicles his band’s journey around the globe in support of our Troops.  The documentary screens on Thursday, May 15th and is part of an entire evening dedicated to honoring wounded warriors.  Tickets are still available.

The entire festival runs from Tuesday, May 11 through Sunday, May 16 and includes feature films, documentaries, shorts’ series, and discussion panels from actors, directors, and producers.  There’s even a bootcamp for aspiring filmmakers.

Can’t make it to DC for the festivities?  Be sure to check out the website for film trailers, the GIFF blog, and much more!  And be sure to enjoy the official GIFF trailer below…

This Week’s Snag Film: Darkon

Grab the popcorn and get ready to suspend reality – at least temporarily – for the latest offering from Snag Films’ USO Theater!

DARKON is a feature documentary that follows the real-life adventures of an unusual group of weekend “warrior knights,” fantasy role-playing gamers whose live action “battleground” is modern-day Baltimore, Maryland, re-imagined as a make-believe medieval world named Darkon. These live action gamers combine the physical drama of historical re-enactments with character-driven storylines inspired in part by such perennial favorite fantasy epics like the legends of King Arthur, Lord of the Rings, and the saga of Conan the Barbarian. As role players, they create alter-egos with rich emotional, psychological, and social lives. They costume themselves and physically act out their characters exploits both in intimate court intrigue and campouts and in panoramic battle scenarios involving competitive strategies, convincingly real props, and full contact “combat.” Because real life so often gets in the way, its easy to understand these players’ motivations. Everybody wants to be a hero.

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This Week’s Snag Film: Farther Than the Eye Can See

We hope you take an hour this week to enjoy the latest offering from Snag Films’ USO Theater!  Farther Than the Eye Can See is one of the top adventure films of all time — blind climber Eric Weihenmayer’s renowned summit of Mt. Everest

An intimate look inside one of the most successful Mount Everest expeditions ever. This award-winning film beautifully captures the emotion, humor and drama of blind climber Erik Weihenmayer’s historic ascent as well as four other remarkable ‘firsts’ on Mount Everest.

“Though there were questions about the wisdom of the attempt before the team even left home, the clear and definitive success of the expedition proves what people working together, with a common vision, can accomplish. By rallying behind Erik, nineteen of twenty-one team members stood on the top. The oldest climber ever reached the summit along with his son, an American first. And finally, with the help of Sherpas, we were able to bring an HD camera along to capture historic moments with Erik and his team on the summit.” – Michael Brown, Director

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This Week’s Snag Film: Splitting Hairs

We hope you take half an hour this week to enjoy the latest offering from Snag Films’ USO Theater!  Splitting Hairs is a documentary about the American invasion of the World Beard and Moustache Championships.Here’s the – ahem – trimmed-down synopsis: Facial hair championships began 30 years ago in the black Forest of Germany.  Over time, the championships drew competitors from across Europe, but it was not until the early 1990’s that American pioneers Bruce Roe and Phil Olsen discovered the event.

One year before the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Berlin, we meet Phil and Bruce at home, and learn of their ongoing rivalry. We also meet outspoken World Muskateer Champion Gary Johnson, who professes no loyalties to anyone except two biker friends who accompany him to Berlin.

The competition begins, and we discover the varied fates of our characters as they compete against the best beards and moustaches in the world.  Immediately after the competition, we join the Election for the President the World Beard and Moustache Association. The current president steps down, Bruce and Phil are both nominated for the position. This is the showdown they’ve been waiting for. Speeches are given, a vote follows, and the new President of the World Beard and Moustache movement is unveiled.

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This Week’s Snag Film: Ballou

It’s time to grab the popcorn and gather the family around the computer, because we have your new offering for the USO Theater from Snag Films!

This week’s documentary is Ballou; here’s the synopsis from Snag Films:

The marching band at Ballou Senior High School in D.C.

“Members of the Ballou Senior High School Marching Band rise above their violence-filled Washington, D.C., neighborhood in this documentary, which follows the group as they try to achieve their dream of winning the national marching band competition. Inspired by their tireless director, Darrell Watson, and helped by a dedicated team of volunteers, the musical teens put their heads, hearts and souls into making the band the best it can be.”


Entertaining Warriors in an Avatar Age

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.