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Military checks award-winning war documentary 'Restrepo' for accuracy

“Restrepo,” the documentary about a platoon of U.S. soldiers fighting for their lives in Afghanistan, did go through military channels for accuracy.

But the content of the R-rated film, now playing at the Wynnsong 10 theater on Fort Benning, was not influenced in a major way by the military, U.S. Army officials said Friday. And the military has no choice in which venues the emotional documentary is being shown, they said.

“We don’t exercise any editorial comment or anything else over what plays out there. No input whatsoever,” George Steuber, Fort Benning’s deputy garrison commander, said of the Wynnsong.

The theater, built 15 years ago and owned by Columbus-based Carmike Cinemas, is the only civilian-run movie house on a U.S. Army installation, Steuber explained.

That gives Fort Benning soldiers and families access to movies as they debut nationwide, unlike other Army theaters run by the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, which have to wait for releases.

“We do get a percentage of the proceeds and we get first-run movies when nobody else does,” he said of AAFES-run theaters. “It’s a beautiful situation.”

And it doesn’t hurt that “Restrepo,” which has naturally connected with military audiences and their families, was supported by the U.S. Army from its inception. The military signed off on an agreement to allow its filmmakers to accompany the 173rd Airborne Brigade during its deployment to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008.

In exchange, the documentary’s creators agreed to allow the military to screen it for technical accuracy and errors, said Ken Hawes, public affairs officer with the U.S. Army Public Affairs Western Region, based in Los Angeles.

“The rough cut of the documentary came back to our office,” he said. “We reviewed it and made a few comments on it, and now it’s out for distribution. So we help filmmakers make products, but we don’t get into the distribution business” of deciding which markets or specific theaters in which movies play.

The Los Angeles office works with plenty of film and documentary productions, Hawes said. That includes the History Channel and the Discovery Channel on cable television. “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe,” “Ironman” and “Dear John” are some of the major movies that have turned to the military to help make sure that scenes and footage are accurate.

“It’s completely their call on what they show,” Hawes said of the U.S. theater companies and military installations on which films play. “I’m sure there’s some guidelines on military installations where they can’t show X-rated movies and things like that. But the bottom line is that’s up to the commander and the cinema on the installation.”

Hawes, himself a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, said there’s a primary reason “Restrepo” strikes a chord with military people watching it. They essentially see themselves on the big screen.

“It’s real,” he said. “It’s not actors pretending to be soldiers. It’s actually soldiers that have been deployed to a very hostile environment.”

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