The husband-and-wife team behind the ninth annual GI Film Festival says 2015 will be a banner year for the event dubbed "Sundance for the troops."
On Tuesday, the organizers offered a sneak preview of several short films to build momentum for the festival, which kicks off next month.
The festival has booked more than 60 military-themed films to screen from May 18-24 in the greater Washington, D.C., area. During that week, audiences will be treated to a wide variety of films, from low-budget indies like "The Haircut," which tells the story of the first women admitted to West Point, to commercial comedies like "Spy," starring comedian Melissa McCarthy and action A-lister Jason Statham.
The festival's red carpet will see appearances by celebrities such as Gary Sinise, Ben Kingsley and Dolph Lundgren, as well as the true-life heroes who inspired a number of this year's entries.
It's an impressive new chapter for a film festival that started with a conversation between spouses Brandon Millett and Laura Law-Millett — then serving in the Army — nearly a decade ago.
At the time, the couple said, few films portrayed the military in an accurate or positive light. The GI Film Festival was born out of a desire to change that.
"Our mission is to foster a positive image of the men and women in uniform," Millett said.
Law-Millett, who left the Army as a major in 2008 after 14 years of service, remembers the hard work it took to get the festival off the ground.
"In those days, it was a little rough," she said.
But the endless rounds of handshakes and telephone calls paid off, and the festival continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
According to Millett, the GI Film Festival has seen consistent 15-percent to 20-percent growth in submissions, to say nothing of the increased technical sophistication of most entries. Bloomberg christened the event "Sundance for the troops" a few years ago, and the name becomes more fitting with each annual incarnation.
Millett sees the increasing visibility of the GI Film Festival as part of a much larger shift in military-themed filmmaking. He holds up movies like "Lone Survivor" and "American Sniper" as proof that the box office responds to films that present the American armed forces in a positive way. He also points to the many members of the military turning to video to tell their stories.
"More and more veterans are getting into the industry," Millett said.
These veteran-made films are giving more audiences a window into the armed forces that would be nearly impossible in big Hollywood movies, which sometimes contain inaccuracies despite their entertainment value.
"It's a more authentic military experience," Millett said.