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Saluting a decorated military man

'Simpsons' director Mark Kirkland pays homage to his stepfather in film, "A Letter from Home," which will be screened at Burbank International Film Festival.

September 04, 2010|By Steve Kindred
(Raul Roa )

Burbank produces magic for the entire world from its two major motion picture studios, Disney and Warner Bros., as well as through dozens of production facilities that remain, even in a recession, a major source of jobs for the area. So it seems only logical that the city should have its own movie showcase. There will be 170 films, many of them never seen before, screened at the second annual Burbank International Film Festival from Sept. 10 to 19.

Some of this year's participants are new to the industry. Others, like Burbank resident Mark Kirkland, have been seen on credit rolls for years — in Kirkland's case, as director of 65 episodes of TV's "The Simpsons." He has two entries. The first is something right up his alley, a two-minute animated short, "Animal Crackers," shot 32 years ago when the now-53-year-old Kirkland was a student at Cal Arts, and recently restored for a festival in Brazil.

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Kirkland's live action product, "A Letter from Home," chronicles the fate of members of the Greatest Generation who fought against Hitler's soldiers in Europe. As was the case with the 1965 film "Battle of the Bulge" starring Henry Fonda and Telly Savalas, the 10-minute-long "Home" was shot at a snowy Big Bear. The script was inspired in part by the true-life story of Kirkland's stepfather, Omer D. "Whit" Whitwell, leader of a rifle platoon in Europe, whose bravery earned him three Purple Hearts and two Silver Star medals for valor.

"Whit was a hard-working executive who appeared to be an average American everyman, except he was missing his right ring finger and when he took his shirt off, deep scars were visible — evidence of his combat wounds," Kirkland said. "His unit showed what mankind could do when everyone works together. I believe that a thousand years from now, people will look back at both world wars as moments when history changed because of the way these (allied) soldiers contributed and sacrificed. They had to grow up fast."

Striving for as much authenticity as possible, Kirkland shot "Home" on a 60-year-old, 35 mm Éclair camera. In one scene, his star, Brenan Fleming, wore a turtleneck emblazoned with a Red Cross label, which had been worn by an actual veteran who fought the Nazis. Kirkland's wife produced the film, which will be shown Sept. 15 at the AMC Town Center 6 in Burbank.

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