Empty8:30 p.m. Monday, June 25
This extraordinary little gem of documentary feature from director Vince DiPersio chronicles the fascinating life and experiences of a courageous guy named Jeff Key, an Alabama dude who happened to be born gay but nonetheless followed his dream to serve in the Marine Corps in the era of "don't ask, don't tell." He was already in the service when Sept. 11 occurred and ultimately got shipped to Iraq after the Bush administration "switched the enemy on me," as he puts it.
"Semper Fi" is based on Key's one-man stage show that traveled the country, telling the tale that was logged in his personal wartime journals. But the surprise is that the docu isn't a stereotypical reflection of disillusionment and despair but indeed a life-affirming narrative detailing the ways in which the adversity of war fueled Key's quest to win another equally harrowing war within himself.
The style here blends video footage shot by Key with interviews of his devout yet supportive parents, chats with his friends and fellow soldiers as well as newly performed scenes from his show. Although he's not a professionally trained actor, he displays an uncanny charisma and vibrant, passionate confidence. It's clear that playing out his life in plain sight remains a powerful catharsis for Key, who uses this framework to purge demons at once internal and external. He speaks with conviction of the senselessness of the Iraq War -- which he ultimately quit when keeping his sexual orientation secret proved too taxing and soul-sapping -- but also of the relief he feels in finally reconciling an oft-painful past.
In so fervently and colorfully crafting his all-too-human story, Key demonstrates that the triumphant journey through one's own psyche is perhaps the greatest adventure of all.