Among the screened films was a documentary entitled “About Face,” which was directed by Steve Karras. To me, the film is a masterpiece. It depicts a group of Jewish Refugees from both Germany and Austria that joined the American and British Armed Forces in WWII to fight against their native lands. The film was both moving and educational. In fact, I must state I was not even aware there was so many of these refugees. Apparently, they numbered approximately 10,000. And, because of their knowledge of the native languages of the enemy, many of them were placed in positions that put them directly into contact with the same Germans who were persecuting their family and relatives.
The film explored the motivations of these soldiers and the feelings that many of them have regarding Nazism and the war to this day. You must remember that although these people were Jews, they were also Germans. Their native language was German. They were schooled in Germany prior to the Nazi takeover. All of their friends were Germans and some of those friends were even fighting in the war against the Allies. One of the refugees interviewed stated that he came across a childhood friend of his towards the end of the war and that it was an emotional experience for them both.
Another of the refugees was shown going back to his hometown for the first time since leaving before the war. He was walking the streets of his childhood and searching for some of his boyhood friends. Again, the question came up regarding what he would have done in the event he was confronted with killing one of them. Remember, these were all Jews who were fighting the same Nazis who had decreed that Jews were inferior and must be annihilated.
When asked while standing on one of the beaches at Normandy, what should be done to stop another holocaust and war with the scope of WWII, one of the documentary’s subjects stated, “Never allow another fanatic to gain control of a powerful country.” To no surprise, this garnered the most applause from the obvious partisan crowd.
Another film that I found extremely moving was a documentary entitled “Bedford: The Town They Left Behind.” This film traces the effects of D-Day on a small town in Virginia that had the largest per capita casualties on D-Day of anyplace in the United States. It also deals with the current effects of the citizenry as a result of the National Guard troops being called up in 2004 to fight in the “War on Terror.” Obviously, the D-Day losses are still considered and in the minds of the residents. A common question being asked by the residents today is, “Could this possibly happen again?”
This film was almost as emotional as “About Face.” It is hard to believe that this town was so affected by the losses sustained on D-Day. It was just their turn of bad luck that the National Guard branch based in Bedford was on the front lines storming Normandy on June 6, 1944. The town truly paid its price for Democracy. And, to their credit, the town people have learned to be proud of their boys and not regret the sacrifices which made.
There were many other films shown at the festival that were moving and made me proud of the Armed Forces and of being an American. Among them were “Spitfire 944” a short about an American pilot seeing a crash landing in which he survived during WWII 50 years after the war for the first time on film; “Witt’s Daughter” which fictionally explored the effects on a family of a soldier’s absence during the Korean conflict; and, “A Touch of Home” which is a documentary about the Vietnam War’s Red Cross Girls and their memories of the experience.
At the conclusion of the screenings, Gary Sinise hosted a reception honoring the filmmakers, the festival and the Armed Forces in general. Mr. Sinise appeared with his usual humbleness and towered praises upon the people that risk their lives for democracy and for the United States of America. This is a man that has devoted a major portion of his free time to supporting the military and asks for nothing in exchange. He is a true patriot and a true gentleman.
On the whole, the experience was a great one. It was both pleasant and unusual to be with a group of filmmakers and film aficionados that were of a like conservative mind and proud to be Americans. The usual gatherings of film people are full of condemnation of the country and its form of government. I hope that you all find a way to see these truly patriotic films. In closing, I salute the troops. I salute Gary Sinise for his untiring work for them and his love for America. And, I salute the founders and supporters of the festival. Thank you.
© 2009 by Frank T. DeMartini. Permission to copy will be granted freely upon request.