- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hollywood actor Judd Nelson is in the District this weekend for a cause that’s close to his heart — the GI Film Festival, now in its 11th year.

“Regardless of one’s political persuasion, history is shaped by military conflict. Those people on the front lines, they’re in harm’s way, and I support them 100 percent,” Mr. Nelson told The Washington Times at the U.S. Navy Memorial.

He attended an afternoon screening of the documentary “2 Sides Project,” which follows a group of people whose fathers all perished on opposite sides of the Vietnam War. (The film subjects visited the Vietnam Memorial just before Thursday’s screening.)

“They don’t make the wars, they just do what they’re told to do,” Mr. Nelson said.

The actor said he never served in the armed forces, but the cause of veterans is important to him, adding that he finds himself more drawn to documentaries than narrative films. In one of his first films, 1985’s “Fandango,” he portrayed an ROTC cadet — a part he researched by speaking with members of the University of Texas ROTC near the film’s set.

Mr. Nelson asked the cadets to put him “through some drills.” (Acting, he said, is “a child’s game played by adults with children’s rules.”)

Mr. Nelson believes it’s important to separate members of the armed forces from the conflicts in which they are ordered to fight.

“If you are going to take your anger at the government out on the soldier, I think you’re just missing the point,” he said. “I feel for those people who are just as afraid as what I imagine I would be, and then you get home and you’re treated like an enemy.”

Equally important is tending to their often difficult reintegration into society, he said. While the general public treats today’s veterans better than those who came home from Vietnam, the Department of Veterans Affairs scandals have shown that the agency tasked with helping veterans return to society must be held accountable. This includes making informed choices at the voting booth, Mr. Nelson said.

“They say that the strength of a society is the way it deals with its weakest links, and if we can’t take care of those people we have [trained] to defend us, then what are we?” he said.

While the VA has undergone leadership changes since the Phoenix scandal broke in 2014, much works need to be done, and voters should continue to push their politicians on behalf of veterans, Mr. Nelson said.

“Granted, we may not live to see the changes happen, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try,” he said. “We have to think legacy rather than what would be better for us next year. What about two generations from now?”

Actor Tom Berenger, who portrayed the fearsome Sgt. Barnes in 1986 best-picture winner “Platoon” — written and directed by Vietnam War veteran Oliver Stone — also was on hand for Thursday’s screening.

Mr. Nelson disagreed with the premise that Hollywood is “out of touch” with mainstream American values, saying the desire to make money in the film business is no different than any other corporation trying to maximize its profits.

“Certainly, as an actor you can do great work in a film that no ones sees, and it’s as if you didn’t do it. You can do mediocre work in a mediocre film that does great box office, and you might walk on water,” he said.

The GI Film Festival continues through Sunday, consisting of documentaries and narratives made by and about the veteran community. Co-founder Laura Law-Millett is an Army intelligence veteran who runs the festival with her husband, Brandon L. Millett.

“This is the one and only military film festival,” Mr. Nelson said, “so I’m more than happy to do anything I can to show those that fight respect and to let them know their efforts are not ignored.”

For the festival lineup, visit GIFilmFestival.com.


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