One of the Little Rock Film Festival's Founders, Craig Renaud and COL Bill Ostlund (OEF VIII Commander of 173rd, 2-503 "The ROCK") look on as SGT Misha Pemble-Belkin, who was featured in the film, accepts the Golden Rock award for Best Documentary
When I got an email from my friend Kanani telling me that Restrepo was going to be screened at the Little Rock Film Festival I knew it was my best opportunity to see the film. So I made plans to drive to Little Rock for the screening. Kanani had access to a small block of complimentary tickets thanks to Laura and National Geographic's film/documentary division and was kind enough to give me one. Also attending the screening were COL Bill Ostlund, his wife, mom, brother, sister in law and a handful of family friends.
Prior to the screening it was announced that "a Soldier" was present in the audience and would be available for Q and A immediately following the presentation. SGT Misha Pemble-Belkin and his wife, Amanda, had traveled to Little Rock for the Friday afternoon screening and SGT Pemble-Belkin had participated in the Q and A after that showing. He and Amanda were invited to stay the weekend by the festival organizers who treated them like royalty. I appreciate the organizers for doing that. It means SO much! But the "Soldier" they were referring to for the Sunday Q and A was COL Bill Ostlund who was the Battalion Commander of the 173rd, 2-503 which included Battle Co, 2nd Platoon featured in Restrepo.
Ostlund family and friends awaiting the screen of Restrepo
COL Ostlund doing the Q and A following the screening on Sunday.
We were all invited to attend the Gala hosted on Sunday night (the last night of the Film Festival). I didn't feel at all properly dressed for the occassion but wouldn't have missed it for ANYTHING. It was held at the Clinton Presidential Library on the bank of the Arkansas River in Little Rock. The room was incredibly well decorated and the hors d'oeuvres were scrumptious! We had a bit of a laugh at one point because during the film there was an interview with Misha (SGT Pemble-Belkin) and he commented that he wasn't allowed to eat sugar until he was a teenager. When asked "why?" he replied, "because my mom is a hippie." It was hilarious. So there we were enjoying the food, drinking wine and beer and Heather noticed Misha had a nice array of mini cheesecakes on his plate. We figured he was just making up for lost time. It certainly provided a another laugh.
At the Gala after the screening
Misha and Amanda at the Gala. They are a lovely couple in every possible way. It was more than a pleasure to meet them and share this day/night with them. I'm not sure a better representative of 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 2-503, the 173rd or the Army could have been selected. He was poised, professional, engaging and humble.
Members of the Film Festival staff, local and state dignitaries made a few speeches. I'm absolutely AMAZED this is only the fourth year of this festival. It ran seamlessly, professionally and as if it had a much longer history than four years. KUDOS to the founders, volunteers, participants and attendees.
The process of handing out awards began. I had never attended a film festival so it didn't cross my mind that Restrepo might win an award. They began handing out scholarships to high school students who had films in the festival. They handed out an award for a film in the category made in Arkansas (again, sorry for not taking notes). When they began announcing the nominees for Best Documentary "Restrepo" was the first nominee. NOW they had my attention. When "Restrepo" was announced as the winner and Misha and COL Ostlund were asked to come forward to accept the Golden Rock award everyone at our table jumped up yelling, screaming, clapping and carrying on like crazy. WOW! WOW! WOW!
COL Ostlund motioned for Misha to go ahead of him. As they got to the front of the room the festival staff handed the award to Misha. He was smiling from ear to ear! It was a great moment. I'm so glad he and Amanda were there.
SGT Pemble-Belkin with the Golden Rock award for Best Documentary and COL Ostlund receiving congratulations from one of the festival founders
COL Ostlund stepped back to let Misha accept the award. I was so busy trying to take a decent picture (among all of the professional photographers) that I have no idea what he said. Sorry.
SGT Pemble-Belkin accepting the award on behalf of 2nd Platoon, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington
Then the staff asked COL Ostlund to say a few remarks. Again I have no idea what he said. I was too excited and too focused on trying to take a decent photo of the moment with my dime store camera.
UPDATE: I just received information about what COL Ostlund said during his remarks:
"No one can say it better than a Soldier, an American Paratrooper. As I look out across this eclectic group I'm reminded how many seek to identify a rift between the military and Hollywood-types. But in fact it is men like Misha that readily ensure the freedoms that allow for expression and the ability to tell our collective stories. I can assure you we, in the military, respect those who accept and share risk to tell our story. Thanks for all you do - God Bless America."
COL Ostlund making remarks
Standing ovation as SGT Pemble-Belkin and COL Ostlund return to their seats with the award
As Misha and COL Ostlund returned to our table with the award they received a standing ovation. A LOUD and LONG one. People were shaking their hands, thanking them for their service and congratulating them as they worked their way through the crowd. I cannot tell you how happy I was to be there. I kept thinking about so many others I wish who could have been there too. Many who are deployed back to Afghanistan. Others who we continue to remember and honor - who gave their lives in service to our nation. So bittersweet.
I hope Sebastian and Tim know where to find Misha because we are convinced he is NOT going to share this with them. Couldn't pry it out of his hands! Rightly so.
See? He's still holding it. (I love this shot! Wonder who/what he's thinking. I have a little bit of an idea.)
SGT Pemble-Belkin and COL Ostlund
Film festival founders, SGT Pemble-Beklin and COL Ostlund (sorry about the lighting)
I was fortunate to meet Carol Dysinger the director of Camp Victory Afghanistan. When I first saw the name of her film I was confused because I thought Camp Victory was in Iraq. Turns out there is a Camp Victory in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The one in Afghansitan is an Afghan Army Camp. Unfortunately her film was screened on Friday and Saturday so I didn't get the opportunity to view it and I regret that.
Finally please go check out the work the Renaud brothers have done with respect to military related films. They are two of the four founders of the Little Rock Film Festival.
A MILLION thank yous to Sebastian and Tim for the film, to the Little Rock Film Festival for screening it and being so hospitable, to Kanani for the ticket and to all of the ROCK Paratroopers and their families.