It’s no secret that these are dire political times in the U.S. and the first line of attack (or defense depending on how you see things) is the media. Whoever defines the issues has a leg up on defining the debate. Political docs have been playing an important role in this regard and the work and dissemination of filmmaker David Zeiger’s documentaries, particularly SIR! NO SIR! is an important model for political indie doc-makers.
The outreach campaign around David Zeiger’s strong documentary SIR! NO SIR! is a combination of old-school community organizing and utilization of high-tech digital techniques. Of course, the core of a political film campaign is that the film should be good…and it is. SIR! NO SIR! is an engaging documentary with high production values, smooth editing and humane characters that portrays the anti-Vietnam War movement within the US Army, something most people even activists know little about. The film successfully captures the resistance spirit of those times and hopefully provides inspiration for the current anti-war movement.
Zeiger began making the film with his own money, got some co-production money from ARTE, the French/German cable network. Producer’s rep Louise Rosen brokered the ARTE deal, and has handled other foreign TV sales several since (BBC Storyville, ABC Australia, TVE Spain, YLE Denmark). Zeiger then hit the festival circuit to get the film noticed. It worked…SIR! NO SIR! was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary and won the Audience Award Best Documentary--Los Angeles Film Festival, Jury Award Best Documentary--Hamptons International Film Festival, Seeds of War Award--Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Jury Award Best Film on War and Peace--Vermont International Film Festival and was nominated for a Gotham Award and International Documentary Association Award.
Based on this reception and the behind-the-scenes negotiations by Executive Producer and Rep Peter Broderick, the film was picked up by Balcony Releasing for limited theatrical distribution. It is now in theaters throughout the country for the third month in over 40 cities, and through July will be in at least 20 more. It also opens in theaters in Canada in July.
The film and the political issues it raises have been discussed in over 50 newspapers, magazines and web sites. Most have spoken to the particular significance of the film for the Iraq war (Check out http://www.sirnosir.com/home_filmpress_main.html for the reviews and http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/sir_no_sir/ for an overview).
What’s most significant about the theatrical run has been how Zeiger and his outreach team headed by Celia Alario (firstname.lastname@example.org) have created a campaign to help make this film impact the political landscape of the U.S. The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) fundraising premieres in Oakland and New York each drew over 500 people. Several of the veterans who are in the film have spoken at dozens of screenings, along with members of local anti-war groups. The campaign to get 500 DVDs into soldiers’ hands is well underway. In a stunning example of life imitating art, antiwar activist retired Army Colonel Ann Wright was detained two hours for distributing postcards at Fort McNair promoting the Washington DC run of the film. The MP who detained her said she was distributing “seditious material.”
On July 15 the initial “limited release” of SIR! NO SIR! on DVD will start selling ($19.95+$4.95 shipping and handling - available everywhere but in Canada) exclusively through Zeiger's company Displaced Films (www.sirnosir.com) and at the same time Bullfrog Media (again brokered by Peter Broderick) will be selling educational DVDs to institutions. This is “limited” in two ways. First, it will only be for sale on their web site, www.sirnosir.com; second, it will include the film, theatrical trailer and Punk Ass Crusade flash animation but no other extras. There will also be DVDs of SIR! NO SIR! available at an institutional rate for schools, universities and libraries. Along with the DVD, a CD soundtrack will be available that includes “Soldier We Love You,” Rita Martinson’s anthem that rivets audiences at every screening of the film. Overall, the goal is to make www.sirnossir.com the place to go for material on GI resistance past and present.
In October, a retail DVD of SIR! NO SIR! loaded with extras, including several stories of GI resistance that didn’t make it into the film as well as extended scenes from other films from that time will be released. That DVD will be available in stores and on the web everywhere.
They intend to organize house parties and public screenings, including benefits for organizations starting with the first DVD release in July. For public screenings (not in a home), the activist rate will be $100. In lieu of that, however, they are working on creating a mechanism for groups to sell DVDs at the event itself – either by setting up a computer station for online orders, or by receiving advance copies of the DVD and selling them on the spot (and retaining a portion of the selling price). Support is needed because the cold hard truth is that the production is still far from having paid for itself.
Given that harsh reality, Dick Underhill of Veterans for Peace has proposed that a national day of house parties and public screenings–including near (and on!) military bases–of SIR! NO SIR! around the time of Veterans Day, November 11th. This could become a day of support for GI resisters then and now–make it a day in which the film is used in a nationally coordinated way to raise awareness of and support those inside the military today who are taking the courageous stand of opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.