VDC Screening in Christchurch, New Zealand

“Each of these films is a fight (struggle) involving people in a battle against injustice.”

At the Returned Services Association (RSA) hub in the heart of Christchurch City, New Zealand, 40-odd people gathered to view a small selection of Veteran Documentary Corps films. An even smattering of university students, scholars and veterans produced an atmosphere of engagement and curiosity.

Photo by Sophie Clement

VDC Director and University of Canterbury Fellow, Professor Daniel Bernardi, provided a brief introduction to VDC’s mission and the four documentaries that were screened: Concentration Camp liberator Ralph Rush (directed by Bernardi); “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Resistor, Zoe Dunning (directed by Silvia Turchin); US Army Ranger and Conscientious Objector Rory Fanning (directed by Michael Behrens); and, Special Forces Combat Cameraman Michael Blackwell (directed by Bernardi). Bernardi also screened the trailer to a feature documentary, “The American War,” which tells the story of the Vietnam War from the perspective of five Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army veterans.

Photo by Sophie Clement

The screenings were followed by a Q&A session. A diverse range of questions were asked, from to “What do you think of 9/11?” to “How do the experiences and opinions of a person affect the overall narrative of a documentary?” The level of engagement from the audience was both surprising and thoughtful, with conversation revolving around agency and democracy, the right of American citizens, and, inevitably, the topic of U.S. President Donald Trump. There was a certain universal quality to the thread of discussion, in which people engaged critically with the films shown, both relating their own experiences to the ones on screen and considering the global picture.

Photo by Sophie Clement

An ex-soldier who attended the evening commented that he enjoyed how the films “didn’t have an agenda” and provided an “honest and neutral dialogue on each of the subjects.” Scholar Alec Groysman felt that he connected with the films on a personal level, saying “These films force people to think and ponder how to behave, how to live, and what is truth… These films are truthful. They touched me to the depths of my heart… ” Each individual who graciously shared their thoughts on the films expressed the importance of understanding the weight of war and the ways in which we can create a better future. As one viewer put it, “I honestly don’t think that the average Kiwi can comprehend what war and devastation is, as we are such an insular country… I think Daniel should try and work with the modern Kiwi soldiers, as I think he will be able to develop a completely new way for the general public to understand [war].”

Photo by Sophie Clement

Overall, the screening revealed how the community in Christchurch is a conscientious one, and how the stories of American soldiers shown are a key tool in allowing a space and the opportunity for important discussion.

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Blog post and images by:
Sophie Clement
University of Canterbury English Literature and Cinema Studies Major
VDC Intern

Miami VET Fest Makes Its Debut

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After a major surgery, Bryan Thompson was laying on his hospital bed when he had an inspired idea. As a military man turned filmmaker, Thompson understood that the production of web series was on the rise. So, with the slogan New Media in a New Way, Thompson set forth to create a new kind of festival that was in line with the vibrant Miami culture.

Miami WEB Fest is a festival that combines the typical film festival concept of screenings, panel discussions, and elaborate award ceremonies with something Thompson calls screen bash. Screen bash takes the content from the festival and displays it onscreen at the hottest clubs while the DJ is playing. This creates a whole new way for the filmmakers and the audience to interact with the material, taking the digital media experience to a new level, while still allowing the filmmakers the same sort of thrills that a filmmaker who creates the traditional type of film would experience.

Miami WEB Fest became an instant success; however, Thompson realized that it was not connecting him to the military film community in the way that he hoped that it would. He wanted to give veterans a platform to explore their untold stories, which lead to the creation of Miami VET Fest. With the first annual Miami VET Fest debuting this fall, I caught up with founder and CEO Bryan Thompson to get a closer look at the significance of having a festival whose aim is to pay honor to the military experience.

Carolina Gratianne: What is Miami VET Fest? 

Bryan Thompson: Miami VET Fest is a film festival for veteran inspired and veteran produced content. It’s a one-day event that happens on September 24th. We have all types of productions from short films to feature-length films and documentaries. We also showcase web series and commercials. We do all the screenings at roughly 7 o’clock, which are followed by an award ceremony and an after party that goes on late into the night.

CG: What inspired the creation of Miami VET Fest?

BT: When I created the Miami WEB Fest, I imagined I would find other filmmakers who are former military. Unfortunately, I didn’t find those people. Most of the filmmakers that were submitting were either people who had been film students or who had pursued this career path the whole time. I really didn’t come across any the first year and then only a few the second year that were actually former military. As a result, I started the Miami VET Fest, which has allowed me to discover other like-minded people who have been in the military. People who have applied their military background to the production process in very successful ways. I’m really excited to be able to showcase their work in the Miami VET Fest.

CG: In your own words, what is your role within Miami VET Fest?

BT: I’m the founder and CEO. I’m sort of responsible for every aspect, but my major focus this year has been connecting the festival’s events with the community. We had our board meeting and the mayor of the city, Tomas Regalado, showed up and explained that the veterans are of high importance to him and the city of Miami. Particularly, supporting homeless veterans, supporting transitioning veterans, and hiring veterans is a high priority. So the fact that there is a VET Fest and a WEB Fest that is veteran owned and operated makes a lot of difference. We believe that the festival will continue to make an increasingly large impact on the community.

CG: How involved are you in the selection process of the festival. Do you play a part in choosing what gets screened? 

BT: I do. The way we have it set up is that we have a group of judges. I’m also a judge. So I have a vote in what gets screened, but that vote is weighed with the other judges that are involved in the process. When there is a tie in the numerical process, then the judges have to get together, and we discuss what the pros and cons are so we can break that tie. I’m intimately involved in the decision-making process.

CG: So in your opinion, what makes a great film? Are there certain qualities that you look for? 

BT: A great film is subjective. A great film may not be a great film for the festival, and a great film for the festival may not be considered a great film by everyone else. What I mean is that art is one of those very subjective things and a lot of times something that may not be completely marketable in Hollywood may be something that people really want to see. In general, to answer your question, we look at the technical aspects such as lighting, sound, etc. Those things are universal. We look at storytelling. Does it have a clear beginning, middle, and end? If it’s a documentary, is it telling a story in a clear, concise way? Overall, is it a message that will resonate with people and that people really need to hear? Is it something that is going to be eye opening? Ultimately, we’re also asking the question, does this film contribute to society in a positive way?

CG: As the CEO and founder of this festival, do you feel a responsibility to the Miami community, to the film community, and to the vet community, to bring a certain level of diversity when you are choosing films? 

BT: Absolutely. Although it’s funny, when you just operate out of fairness the diversity thing happens organically. We don’t have something where we go by a numerical quotient. I wouldn’t operate that way because it needs to be a pure evaluation of art. That being said, of course we want to check ourselves and make sure we’re not being biased in some way. Biases can creep in without the evaluator really realizing that their biases are there. So, what we’ve done is we’ve created diversity in the judges themselves. We hope that the diversity amongst the judges will naturally lead to a sort of fair and honest and sincere process and that everyone has a chance to shine. Cause at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. We’d like to see all artist get their shot at glory.

CG: What advice would you give to filmmakers who are interested in submitting their work to Miami VET Fest? 

BT: I think that when you’re creating a piece of work you don’t want to cut corners. People think that not cutting corners is synonymous with spending a lot of money and that’s not really the case. Sometimes it’s really just a questions of putting in more time and effort into what you’re doing. Personally, I would like to accept absolutely every submission to the festival because I want to recognize veterans for what they’re doing and I feel a certain connection to anyone who is a veteran filmmaker or telling a story that is related to it. But of course that’s not the case because it’s a competition. So if you’re going to enter a competition you want to always make sure that you put your best foot forward. Sometimes that’s going to mean that it takes you a little longer and sometimes that means that you wait a year to submit until it’s exactly right. However, don’t over think it. If you create a film and you show it to 10 people who don’t know you, and they don’t have any reason to tell you I like it or I don’t like it, and all 10 of those people say it’s good as it is but you think that it has flaws that need to be corrected then it probably doesn’t because a good artist is always its own worst critic.

CG: Whether it’s the importance of it, whether it’s the future of it, the present of it, what’s something you would want readers to know about Miami VET Fest?

BT: The VET Fest is designed to give the public an opportunity to show appreciation to veterans in a unique way. These are people who have served our country and have discovered that they have an additional ability that they want to share with the world, and Miami VET Fest is their opportunity to do just that. So people should attend, people should support the event, and people should really remember that this is about more than just art. This is about showing our heroes that we care about their sacrifice and we care about their stories.

For more information about Miami VET Fest, click here.