As a career journalist with experience in Washington and elsewhere, I’m as cynical as anybody, so I was about to make fun of the Army rolling its military might — think M1 tank and armed Humvees — down Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills Wednesday night in support of a 30-minute, pro-military film, "American Identity," that’s premiering at 8 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
It’s all unfolding with the blessing of President Obama, who offered the producers "best wishes for a successful screening" and similar sentiments from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, even though the theater — and potential traffic problems — are outside his jurisdiction. My thought, of course, was: How does our president have time to do anything but right the financial markets and end a bunch of wars?
Then I had a talk with the film’s writer and director, Stephen Rollins, and all my snarkiness went out the window.
The film follows two soldiers, best friends, who are sent to Afghanistan following the 2001 terrorist attacks and portrays the impact on their families.
Rollins said the concept emerged as a result of what happened after his 27th birthday party, spent with friends at the Windows on the World restaurant in the north tower of the World Trade Center. The celebration began the evening of Sept. 10, 2001 and ran into the early hours of the following morning.
During the party, he received greetings from a new friend, David Angell, the writer and producer of such iconic television shows as "Cheers" and "Frasier."
It was only the next day, hours after the twin towers were struck, that Rollins learned that Angell and his wife, Lynn, had been aboard American Airlines flight 11, the plane that slammed into the north tower. They had intended to leave Boston for Los Angeles for the following week’s Academy Awards.
At that point in his career, Rollins was a young actor, scrambling for television roles. He was moving into writing and directing, and Angell, he said, had offered him help. "He was a new friend," Rollins said. "A good friend."
Over the next few years, as the U.S. responded to the attacks and the number of American military deaths climbed into the thousands, Rollins said he felt a deeply personal need to "thank all the parties" affected by the attacks and their aftermath "without exploiting the event."
The result became "American Identity," which Rollins and the producers have dedicated to David and Lynn Angell, U.S. troops and the families of military personnel who have sacrificed themselves in the cause of America’s response. Rollins said proceeds from any future sale of the film will go to the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund, an organization that helps surviving children and spouses of U.S. military personnel and disabled soldiers.
"My Dad was an Army Ranger and my uncle was Marines," said Rollins, a Georgia native. "I wanted to tell a story from the personal side, how all these events affect families. You don’t see that every day."
Nor do you see M1 tanks on Wilshire Blvd. every day. Maybe this time it’s okay.