The directorial debut of Chicago native Christian Taylor with The Girl Who Wore Freedom is an education on empathy. This documentary being shown at the GI Film Festival San Diego tells the untold WWII stories of the men, women, and children of Normandy, France, who lived through German occupation, the D-Day invasion, and the liberation by Allied forces.
On June 6, 2015, exactly 71 years after the Americans flooded the sores of Nazi occupied Normandy, Christian met a French woman named Dany Patrix who had in fact lived this moment in history. In 1944 Dany was just a little French girl who wore a dress made out of the American flag, she was the girl who wore freedom. This little girl’s story exemplifies how the French saw – and still remember – the bravery and heroism of the American GIs and demonstrates why the United States has always taken part in protecting and liberating any who are oppressed- and her dress of gratitude serves as the fabric that threads this documentary together.
The Chicago native who currently lives in Wheaton, Illinois has had a colorful life that led her to this moment. There was no one better to tell the story than Christian Taylor- although this first time director trailblazing as a woman in the war film genre and mother of two sons who serve in the military, was brought to the D-Day Festival in Normandy by accidental fate. When one of her sons was invited to the Festival in 2015 as a consolation prize after competing at brigade level for soldier of the year, Christian tagged along.
It was her first time in Normandy where she was shocked to learn that 20 million Frenchmen lost their lives in the battle of Normandy and yet every year the French honor the American veterans who took part in this bloodbath that also liberated them from a Nazi occupied France. On the beaches of Normandy she witnessed the way in which the their gratitude overshadowed their grief. This unwavering thankfulness has been passed down from generation to generation for 71 years. She couldn’t help but wonder how this gratitude survived all these years?
Armed with a deep love for history, a childhood with a father in politics, two sons in the military, and an extensive career and broadcast journalism, she began her journey of storytelling. It felt to Christian that, “every moment and experience in my life led me to tell this story.”
Christian wanted to show through her documentary, “who America was when she was at her best, when she was willing to lay her life down for others.” This through line of empathy in, The Girl Who Wore Freedom transcends the screen and has served as a therapeutic movie-going experience for veterans. After every screening with those who have served Christian vividly recalls the tears, sobbing, and the unpacking of their own war stories as they imparted, “I’ve never told anyone this before.” By telling an untold story of the French civilians and American GIs, this is a film that allows a cathartic space for veterans to share their own untold stories.
Holly Schaffner, a member of the GI Film Festival San Diego advisory committee since its conception and U.S. Coast Guard veteran, serving 24 years explained, “the importance of this festival is in sharing the stories of the military so they don’t get lost, and telling the untold stories of military service members and veterans.”
The GI Film Festival created for, by, and about the military curates a cathartic, therapeutic, shared experience to allow veterans to connect and heal through storytelling. The act of seeing and hearing stories allows for others to remember their own and possibly even inspire some to share them, which is precisely the effect The Girl Who Wore Freedom has had on veterans.
While the focus is solely on those who’ve served, don’t be mistaken, this festival isn’t only for those in uniform. A fundamental goal of the festival is to bridge the gap between military and civilians through these films. Holly Schaffner explained how important it is “to allow civilians to understand what the military members go through, the sacrifice that they make for this nation, whether it’s for 2 years or 22 years.” Bridging the military and civilian divide is something that Holly expressed immense passion about, which is exactly what Christian Taylor’s film The Girl Who Wore Freedom does.
The Girl Who Wore Freedom makes its West Coast Premiere in the GI Film Festival San Diego on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 at 7:15 p.m. PDT.
This film is also available to watch on-demand from May 20, 2021 at 12 p.m. to May 26, 2021 at 11:45 p.m.