Brothers at War is being called a raw and gritty account of the Iraq war seen through a soldier's eyes. First-time filmmaker Jake Rademacher spent three months embedded in frontline combat units with his soldier brothers in Iraq.
Combating Inaccurate Portrayals of War
Rademacher says he tried to give an accurate portrayal of the troops' experience.
"Who am I to tell you how to think about something as important as the war in Iraq?" Rademacher says. "But if I can shed some light on it, having gone and embedded and done 25-30 missions, and give people some insight on what American families face by providing a window in to their lives, that's what I can do."
The director's brother, Capt. Isaac Rademacher, now on his fourth deployment to Iraq, says the documentary doesn't take sides.
"With the films that are made by Hollywood, it seems there are a lot of agendas people are trying to push," Capt. Rademacher says. "One of the big truths out there is that a lot of people don't know that what we are doing is working. I mean we actually are winning and we do have the support of the populace out there.
"I know what makes it on the news usually is the bombs and the explosions and the body count and how many American soldiers have lost their lives. There are a lot of great news stories over there, and Jake's movie does show some of that," he added.
The small indy film has been screened from Los Angeles to Baghdad, with its world premiere at Washington, D.C.'s G.I. Film Festival (GIFF), a venue where Hollywood veterans called for the film industry to honor America's Armed Forces.
Hollywood Veterans Supporting the Military
Rademacher's efforts have won the backing of Hollywood heavyweights like Gary Sinise, Jon Voight, and Robert Duvall. But his first audience is the troops.
"For them, they're living the film. And the thing most of them said afterwards was that 'I can't wait for my wife to see this, to capture what we go through on a day to day,'" Jake Rademacher says.
Academy Award Winner Robert Duvall who attended the GIFF premier says, "If we didn't have a good military, believe me, darkness would descend. So you have to have a good military. Whether you believe in the war we're fighting or not, the military is very important."
Duvall, who served in the U.S. Army and is the son of a Navy admiral, delivered the line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" in the Vietnam epic film Apocalypse Now. He also portrayed General Robert E. Lee in Gods and Generals.
"The reason we're here is to honor our men and women in uniform," said actor John Ratzenberger of the television series Cheers and Made in America.
"Without them you wouldn't have that camera on your shoulder and that microphone," he says. "You'd have a government official over your shoulder telling you what to do and what to say. We don't have that here in America, and it's only because of the GIs."
Gary Sinise, star of CSI New York, is a longtime soldiers' advocate, perhaps best known as Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump, a role for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Sinise who performs with his Lt. Dan Band for military audiences worldwide says, "In a time of war when we have troops deployed, and we're focused on our veterans and their care and the care of the wounded, and the care of the families deployed in harm's way, anything that's going to draw attention to our service members and their honorable services is a very, very positive thing. And that's what the GI Film Festival was born to do."
But are American movie-goers suffering from "battle fatigue?"
A rash of reports chronicle a long, long list of star-studded war films that bombed at the box office, including Lions for Lambs, with A-Listers Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, and Meryl Streep; Rendition with Reese Witherspoon; and In the Valley of Elah with Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon.
Some film critics blame tanking ticket sales on an unpopular, depressing war. Others say the films flopped because of their anti-American messages.
Critics say graphic images like Rendition's water boarding and torture scenes shape public opinion and erode military morale. With the War on Terror, some critics accuse Hollywood of crossing a cultural line and promoting films that trash the troops while the nation is still at war.
Most Films Negative
Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Turner who attended the GI Film Festival says most films coming out are negative and against the war.
"I personally haven't gone to see any of them because I don't want to see it portrayed in that way because I know that's not how it really is," Turner says.
"I haven't even seen any in the last year or two because they've all been negative," he says. "And I've got over three-and-a-half years of my life over there, and I'm not going to go see something negative about what I've spent a lot of time and lost a lot of friends for."
John Ratzenberger unhesitatingly says Hollywood's portrayal of the military seems out of balance.
"No, it's not a fair portrayal at all, even in the media in the newspaper," he says. "It's not so long ago there was a small, tiny little article buried in the paper somewhere about a GI who threw himself on a grenade and was a recipient of the Purple Heart. And on the front page there was something about Paris Hilton."
From World War I through Vietnam, American soldiers, like John Wayne in The Green Berets, were heroes on the silver screen. Films like Deer Hunter and Platoon, that were critical of Vietnam, were released years after the conflict ended, suggesting as the Army's top general George Casey told us, that movie messages matter.
Documentaries Capture Realities of War
Gen. Casey says he doesn't follow Hollywood that closely, but "I think the films, especially the documentary films that capture what our young men and women are doing in a very demanding environment in Afghanistan and Iraq make a very important contribution."
Jon Voight, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his Vietnam film Coming Home, says soldiers tell him they're fighting enemies at home as well as abroad.
"They all know that this war can be won and they want to get the politics out of it. And they say the generals know what they're doing, just let us do our work. This is what they're saying," Voight says.
Reluctant to criticize his industry, Gary Sinise says whenever you make a movie, you're always playing with the facts.
"Some of the movies that have come out have taken stories that have actually happened and who knows if they were accurate or not," Sinise says. "I don't know. I haven't seen a lot of those movies. What the GI Film Festival is trying to do is celebrate the heroism, bravery, and courage of the American spirit and the American soldier and that's a very positive thing."
"I've been around enough to know it's very difficult to say what the audiences want," Sinise says. "The movies that tend to get made are the ones people respond. Nobody wants to be in the business to make a bunch of movies that aren't going to be seen by anyone. There have been some movies on the military that haven't done well. If they had done well, then they'd probably make more because it means the audience is hungry for that kind of thing."
"With regards to these movies that maybe haven't worked, it's a painful time in our nation," he says. "Our nation is at war. We've lost service members. We've had a lot of wounded come back. We've made mistakes. We continue to deploy our troops. It continues to look like something that's going to last awhile, so it's a painful time. And maybe our nation isn't ready to look at that a lot right now.
"Certainly you know some of the things that have come out, have not been, you know, have not taken off. It's hard for me to guess why they didn't work or whatever, and I'm not going to criticize or comment on something I haven't seen," Sinise says.
"But I do know there's a lot of families that are out there that are hurting, and whatever I can do as an American citizen to go out and support our troops and support their families and try to help them out. And as a person who has benefited by the sacrifices of our service members over the years and the sacrifices of my grandfather and my uncle, and the folks that have fought the Nazi's and have liberated France and Germany, I benefited from that," Sinise says.
"And I feel a responsibility to try and pitch in and try and help these heroes out," he says.