Arts / When Johnny comes marching home again

“And We Were Young”… a stop-motion, silhouette-animation oral history of American soldiers in the last months of World War I.

EVER since Agamemnon came home from the Trojan wars to meet a sticky end, directors and writers have been obsessed with the theme of “coming home” and founder-director of the Veterans Film Festival Tom Papas is no different.

Keen to renew and revitalise the festival, now in its third year, Papas has devised a thematic focus on what happens to veterans when they come home, perfect in promoting a greater understanding about veterans, their families, first responders and the impact of war on society.

The festival is beginning to get inquiries from people who saw it on the website and this year he and his committee have considered 275 Australian, international, competitive and non-competitive films, of which he calculates 30 per cent are “fantastic”, 30 per cent “good” and the remainder first-time films.

The “coming home” is best illustrated by Jennifer Kramer’s US film “The Sand Box” in which a 10-year-old boy, Finn, sees his dad return from a tour in Iraq a changed man, haunted by the memory of a tragic event.

That theme, Papas tells “CityNews”, is just one of many that will be explored as the festival expands from three to five days. With more international feature films and plenty of “shorts”, it covers a wide range of genres and interests with, the organisers are proud to boast, 67 per cent of awards going to female filmmakers last year.

“It’s always going to change every year,” Pappas says, but this year there will be films that will appeal to “veterans or families or you and me”.

The “coming home” theme has given rise to its own genre of film – think of Jon Voight and Jane Fonda in the 1978 film of the same name.

“There is automatically drama in homecoming,” Papas says, things change.”

And looking ahead, 1918, he predicts, is crying out for a retro section on World War I films.

“Max & Leon”… the story of two idle, party-going childhood friends who try to escape World War II.

Animation is all the go this year. In a session of shorts that will act as a fundraiser for Australian War Widows, audiences will see films from the US, Iran, Australia and Russia, but notably, three animated films from Tehran – Saeed Madad’s “War Ball”, where a calm violin player becomes a warrior, Amir Vahedi’s “The Belief” where a soldier’s boots refuse to go forward and Maryam Kashkoolinia’s “That’s Mine”, where a landmine awaits its victim.

It is a 75-minute animated film from the US that draws the most accolades from Papas. Montana animator Andy Smetanka cut out thousands of paper figures and coloured backgrounds and filmed them, one frame at a time, on a Soviet-era Super 8 camera for “And We Were Young,” the “standout highlight” of the festival.

“You really begin to feel what the soldiers went through – it’s brutal and honest,” says Papas.

But not everyone loves animation and he draws attention to “Miro,” a short film from Victoria filmed “in the old Tarantino Django style.” Indigenous actor Mark Coles Smith plays a veteran who arrives home at the end of World War II to find his land taken, his people gone, his daughter stolen and his service record treated with contempt. But it ends on a positive note.

Finally, there’s a film from the Australian Army itself, “Silence is the Accomplice”, dealing with serving soldiers and their experiences with family and domestic violence. On hand will be the Chief of Army, Lt-Gen Angus Campbell, to talk about the film before it screens on Sunday, October 22.

Veterans Film Festival, at the Australian War Memorial, October 18-22, Red Poppy Awards, Australian Defence Force Academy, Northcott Drive, Campbell, 6.30pm, October 18-22. Details and bookings to

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