Director of "Lt Dan Band: For the Common Good" found inspiration in Sinise

For Jonathan Flora, the story behind the Lt. Dan Band and actor Gary Sinise's mission to help wounded soldiers was an inspiration, so the award-winning director decided to produce a documentary based on the band's mission.

The film, "Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good" will be screened for free at 8 p.m. tonight at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort as the starting event for Lt. Dan Weekend.

Flora, who won the inaugural Santini Patriot Spirit Award from the Beaufort Film Society, will autograph DVDs of the film from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. today at the will call tent in front of the Lollipop Shop in Beaufort.

Flora said he first met Sinise at a film festival in Los Angeles. They then met up again at the GI Film Festival in Washington D.C. Flora sits on the advisory board for the festival.

"When he found out I was a veteran, and I started hearing more good things that he did ... we started becoming friends," Flora said. "The more I started seeing and hearing the

things he did, I was inspired and I wanted to share that inspiration with others."

The film follows Sinise and his band, Gary Sinise & The Lt. Dan Band, for two years as they travel the world supporting Sept. 11 first responders, military men and women and their families. However, Flora says the band starts to fade into the background as the documentary becomes more immersed in the lives of the men and women in uniform. Along with Sinise, celebrities such as Jon Voight and Robert Duvall also make special appearances.

FOR THE TROOPSFlora's father was in the Navy, and his last duty station was in Goose Creek, near Charleston. After Flora finished high school, he enlisted in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Between his time in the Army and some years in the Ohio National Guard, Flora has 12 years experience in the military.

Flora said his time in the military affected the way he produced this documentary.

"Being a veteran, even though I never saw combat, I know a lot of guys who have gone and come back and gotten hurt," he said. "With this experience of making the film, my life is so rich because of the people I've been able to meet."

Flora said the first screening of the documentary was on Sept. 11, 2009, in New York on the USS Intreprid, one of the ships his father was stationed on. Flora said he had the debut in New York because that gave some of the 9/11 first responders and their families a chance to see the film. More than 1,100 people were at the first screening.

THE FILMFlora said Sinise was hesitant at first about letting him make the documentary.

"It's reaching people on such a deep emotional level," Flora said. "It's spreading the net a little wider. Gary can't be everywhere and the band can't be everywhere. This is a way to get to places until he gets there... He's a very giving man."

Flora said he was humbled when he found out he received the award. The Santini was named after the Colonel Donald "The Great Santini" Conroy, father of best-selling author Pat Conroy. The award was created by the film society this year to honor a filmmaker "whose portrayal of the American military, veteran or their families in a feature film, documentary, or short the highest standards of service and sacrifice for the good of others," according to the website for the society.

"I can't say enough about Ron Tucker and the film festival," Flora said. "Aside from Southern hospitality, they really took care of us and made filmmakers feel grateful for their work. They're coming from the right place. They're looking for movies that mean something ... I cherish this award. It means the world to me."

THE MISSIONFlora said his goal is to spread the message of help and support for wounded soldiers and first responders.

"Nobody should think that just because it's happening in Beaufort on one weekend, it stops there," Flora said. "Thousands of people go there, thousands of people get inspired and thousands of people return home and spread the word and get involved...

"Regardless of what you've already done, you can always do more. If you've never done anything, you can do something for the first time. That's what it's all about."