Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Faithfully Yours?

The US Marine Corps prides itself on being the most devoted of all military branches and of taking care of its own. This makes it doubly surprising to learn, while watching the riveting new documentary Semper Fi: Always Faithful (now playing at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Los Angeles), that approximately one million Marines and their family members stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from 1957-1987 were exposed to water contaminated with a variety of toxic chemicals. Many deaths and congressional hearings later, the Marine Corps has yet to acknowledge its negligence in this incident.

One courageous retired Marine, Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, has led the charge against the Corps leaders' cover-up since his 9-year-old daughter died of a rare form of leukemia in 1985. As Ensminger heartbreakingly recounts in Semper Fi, his dying daughter refused pain medication until he was offered some as well since, as she told her doctor, "My daddy's hurting, too."

Filmmakers Rachel Libert (Beyond Conviction) and Tony Hardmon (a veteran cinematographer on such acclaimed docs as The Boys of Baraka, Sicko and Jesus Camp making his directorial debut) follow not only Ensminger but several other former residents of Camp Lejeune. These include Major Tom Townsend, whose son died at six weeks of age; Mike Partain, who was born at Camp Lejeune and was diagnosed as an adult with rare, male breast cancer (as were an unusually high number of other men); and Denita McCall, a former Marine and resident at the camp who passed away during production of Semper Fi.


The first congressional hearing on Marines' claims of illness related to the since-discovered water contamination at Camp Lejeuene wasn't held until 2007. Much of the hearing is preserved here, including Major General Eugene Payne denying any connection between the site's dirty water and residents' health problems. Cinematic and journalistic exposes of military and government cover-ups are fairly routine nowadays, but Semper Fi documents blatant lies in such detail that it truly infuriates.

Having won significant awards at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, Semper Fi: Always Faithful is more than worth an investment of time and money on the part of both military personnel and civilians.

Reverend's Rating: A

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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