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Lt. Dan Band: Director Jonathan Flora
Jonathan Flora directs and produces Lt. Dan Band, a documentary that chronicles the military support and activism of actor Gary Sinise, who played Lt. Dan in 1994’s Forrest Gump. Jonathan was in the Army from 1975 until 1984, and he sits on the advisory board for the GI Film Festival. He plans to be in Sedona for the Lt. Dan Band screenings, and he spoke to us about making a pro-military film in liberal Hollywood.
Sedona Monthly: How did you hear about Gary Sinise’s involvement with the troops, and why did you decide to make a film about it?
Jonathan Flora: I met Gary briefly at a film festival where I had another film. Less than a year later, I met him at the GI Film Festival in Washington, D.C. We gave Gary the Spirit Award. When he found out I was a veteran, we hit it off and started a friendship. I started hearing about the different things he does, and I was blown away. I wasn’t aware of it because Gary doesn’t do it for the publicity; he does it to support the troops. The first responders in the military are a savvy group of guys and gals. They can see through people right away – they know who’s there for a photo op and who really has their back. When I pitched him on the idea of a movie, I pitched him on a movie that wasn’t singing his praises or glorifying what he’s doing but uses him and his band as a vehicle to go on a journey and meet other people who also support the military.
When did you pitch the idea to Gary?
The end of 2008. Then I followed him around for nearly two years to show that it’s not something he does once in a while but all year long, year after year.
How many times has the film been screened?
It screened at the Heartland Film Festival and the GI Film Festival, but what was really humbling was the rough-cut screening I did on the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier the weekend of Sept. 11 . We had over 1,100 people there – firefighters, cops, a lot of 9-11 families. It was incredibly moving and humbling because they were the impetus that raised Gary to a new level.
What was the filming process like?
The very first concert that I shot was in Orange County, California, and it was with Snowball Express. Here are 1,500 people, primarily fatherless children and widows, and it was a real sudden gush of what this is all about and what it means to people. I remember standing off to the side and there was a woman holding her child. She looks at me and mouths, ‘thank you.’ Here I am, just trying to film a concert, and this widow is thanking me. You meet America’s finest people who are volunteering to serve in a time of war. To support them is incredible.
Your other films, do they also focus on the military, or is this the first?
This is the first one that focuses on the military. I’m a producer with Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Being a veteran and the son of a career sailor, this film has been very rewarding.
What sort of reception has the film received from Hollywood? Have you been reticent to show it?
What’s been disappointing is some of the film festivals we haven’t been able to get into. We know the agendas of those film festivals, and that’s been disappointing because the one thing that I really felt was incredibly important was to stay apolitical. A real crime, I feel, is when people politicize supporting the troops and our military.
Do you think the troops were surprised that people from Hollywood were making a pro-military documentary?
Yeah, a lot of them feel like Hollywood doesn’t support them, especially when you look at the movies coming out that show the military in a poor light. They have a saying over there, ‘no bleed, no lead.’ They think the media only writes about them when they get hurt – the media doesn’t talk about all the good things the military is doing.