Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger reveals the Marine Corps' cover-up at Camp Lejeune of one of the largest water contamination incidents in US history.
Directed by Rachel Libert, Tony Hardmon
Producers: Rachel Libert, Tony Hardmon, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
Executive Producers: Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Judith Helfand
Cinematographer: Tony Hardmon
Editor: Purcell Carson
Composers: Ivor Guest, Robert Logan
A Tied to the Tracks Films, Inc. Production
[Note: Community screenings of SEMPER FI can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]
"Has all the investigative punch of a window-rattling Frontline episode and the smoldering intensity of a high-stakes issues drama." Chris Barsanti, Film Journal International
Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger was a devoted Marine for nearly twenty-five years. As a drill instructor he lived and breathed the "Corps" and was responsible for indoctrinating thousands of new recruits with its motto Semper Fidelis or "Always Faithful."
When Jerry's nine-year old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, his world collapsed. As a grief-stricken father, he struggled for years to make sense of what happened. His search for answers led to the shocking discovery of a Marine Corps cover-up of one of the largest water contamination incidents in U.S. history.
Semper Fi: Always Faithful follows Jerry's mission to expose the Marine Corps and force them to live up to their motto to the thousands of soldiers and their families exposed to toxic chemicals. His fight reveals a grave injustice at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune and a looming environmental crisis at military sites across the country.
The Department of Defense is the United States' largest polluter. Semper Fi: Always Faithful is a timely and sobering story of the betrayal of US soldiers and is a call to action for more environmental oversight of military sites.
Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2012
Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-209-8
"A powerful film about an unlikely grassroots movement. Former U.S. marines and their families, who suffered devastating health consequences from environmental contamination, fought government secrecy and obstruction to uncover the sources and seek compensation. Semper Fi conveys their story in a low-key, yet effective way, balancing personal background with the details of the political process and the effect of television coverage. The film would be suitable for a wide range of courses on environmental policy, bureaucratic politics, American government, civil-military relations, or media studies, to name a few."
Matthew Evangelista, Professor of History and Political Science, Cornell University, Author, Law, Ethics, and the War on Terror
"If you watch this documentary, and you should, you will probably ask yourself why this happened. At some point you will realize that Janey, and all the other children, did not have to die...[Semper Fi] is more than a documentary about an environmental disaster. It is also about senior marine Corps leaders' gross violation of a sacred code."
Donald MacCuish, Air Command and Staff College, H-Net Reviews
"Riveting story...[Sgt. Jerry Ensminger] defied the Marine Corp's denial and cover-up, congressional indifference, and government bureaucracy to win a federal bill offering full health services for up to a million people presumed exposed at Camp Lejeune. Camp Lejeune is the military's Love Canal, and Semper Fi brilliantly captures the citizen science investigation, strategic activism, and environmental justice that prevailed."
H. Patricia Hynes, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Author, The Recurring Silent Spring
"Semper Fi captures the human condition. On one level this is the story of a father's search to understand the death of his daughter. On another, it is a poignant and powerful story of betrayal and cover up that every American needs to see. Through this film, public health students and instructors can empathize with and gain respect for the soldiers and their families whose health is at stake."
Dr. Doug Brugge, Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine
"A searing indictment of an institution that cared more about public relations than its own employees' survival. A glowing testament to the power that a few good people have had to rouse others to action and reach a more just world as a result. A powerful story."
Catherine Lutz, Professor of Anthropology and International Studies, Brown University, co-Author, Breaking Ranks: Iraq Veterans Speak Out Against the War and Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century
"Outstanding documentary...heartbreaking...inspiring. This is an issue that has been in the news for years, but Semper Fi tells it in such an in-depth and compelling way that it provokes a fresh sense of outrage."
Susan Gilmor, RiverRun Film Festival
"The motto and salutation proudly used among Marines to signify their loyalty to their country and their years in the service is used ironically as the title of this documentary. The shameful story that unfolds suggests those words represent little more than a marketing trope for the Marines...The film is highly recommended and would be a good tool for discussions of government accountability, class discrimination, and human rights."
Christopher Lewis, American University, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Powerful and timely...The cast of characters Ensminger meets along the way are both fascinating and heartbreaking...Highly recommended for public and academic libraries."
Rod Bustos, Augusta State University, Library Journal
"A compelling tale and Ensminger is excellent and honourable company...There is a pleasing irony to the fact that the military also hardened their nemesis to the rigours that such a gruelling and long-running campaign would demand of him. Indeed, Ensminger seems to display a greater fealty to his former brothers-in-arms than their employer did. Semper Fi indeed."
"Wrenching, ironically titled...Hollywood could not script more powerful and heartbreaking scenes than those of Partain angrily challenging the U.S. Marines...A gripping, against-all-odds true story with an emotionally triumphant climax. Highly recommended."
Donald Liebenson, Booklist
"The sad 9/11-era irony of these troops being so utterly betrayed by their own hierarchy is self-evident and not belabored here. There is no right-wing-vs.-left-wing stance or scorekeeping, just a powerful story about a cover-up and one man's mission to reveal the truth. Recommended."
"Semper Fi: Always Faithful is the story of a committed career Marine who leads a coalition of former base residents in a campaign to expose the contamination, against the very organization to which they had dedicated their lives. Many of those former residents who teamed up with Master Sgt. Ensminger and are profiled in the film are themselves sick with rare forms of cancer (such as male breast cancer), or have lost a child. It is also a story of political transformation, as an unexpected group of patriotic Americans finds their voice in a crusade against the largest polluter in the United States: the Department of Defense."
Citation for The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize
"In Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon's shocking expose Semper Fi, career Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger unearths buried secrets about the corps he so faithfully served, learning that its negligence caused his 9-year-old daughter's death from leukemia and that the military hushed up decades-long toxic contamination at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune that possibly affected thousands of soldiers and their families. Opposed by the government every step of the way, Ensminger digs up evidence and battles his way to Congressional hearings with stubborn, Marine-honed, never-say-die determination. Strong, impassioned docu."
Ronnie Scheib, Variety
" 'If I die tomorrow, my family gets nothing,' says Denita McCall, one of the former Marines profiled in Semper Fi, Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon's inspiring documentary about the aftereffects of polluted water at the Corps' largest base, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. But she also points out where she received her stubbornness from--the very Marine Corps that she is now attempting to get help from: 'They trained me to be this way.'...Somehow, with the plethora of dramatic subplots to spin off into, Libert and Hardmon keep their highly Oscar-worthy film short and focused. At a tight and emotionally draining 76 minutes, it has all the investigative punch of a window-rattling Frontline episode and the smoldering intensity of a high-stakes issues drama."
Chris Barsanti, Film Journal International
"The phrase 'The American Dream' calls to mind certain images. When I hear those words, I visualize small but comfortable suburban houses in bucolic surroundings. Yards, fences, kids playing in the street. Basically, I imagine what Camp Lejeune looked like in the middle of the last century. Lejeune is the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast. In archival footage from Semper Fi: Always Faithful, Lejeune looks the way we want America to look. But that simple beauty hid a horrifying secret: Lejeune's water was tainted with industrial chemicals. For thirty years. And the military knew about it. Instead of trying to correct it, they covered it up...Libert and Hardmon's film is far-reaching and comprehensive...It couldn't have been easy to make this movie. Neither is it easy to convince battle hardened soldiers to let down their guard in front of a movie camera. It is not often you see Marines openly weep. It makes an impact. These men fought for our right to pursue our own American Dreams. And as
thanks, they had theirs ripped away from them."
Matt Singer, IFC Fix
Includes scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Host a community screening
The Film's Website
Excellent C-SPAN Interview with Jerry Ensminger & Rachel Libert
Rachel Libert talks to ABC's The Conversation
Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry Website
Awards and Festivals
Shortlist for Best Documentary, Academy Awards®
The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize
ALA Notable Videos for Adults Annual List
Best Editing, 2nd Place Audience Award, Tribeca Film Festival
Special Founders Prize, Traverse City Film Festival
Best Documentary & Audience Award Award, Woodstock Film Festival
Grand Jury Award, Best Documentary United Nations Association Film Festival, Stanford
Best Documentary Award, San Diego Film Festival
Best Documentary By or About Women, Women Film Critics Circle
Green Screen Nominee, IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam)
Honorable Mention, EcoFocus Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Columbus International Film + Video Festival
Boulder International Film Festival
Stranger than Fiction Series, IFC Center
Palm Springs Film Festival
Traverse City Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Environmental International Film Festival, Paris
Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival
Denver Film Festival
Hawaii Film Festival
American Conservation Film Festival
Camden Film Festival
Cucalorus Film Festival
Cineworld Film Festival
Global Peace Film Festival
Tales from Planet Earth Festival
RiverRun International Film Festival
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... more Reviews
"Semper Fi: Always Faithful is a love letter from a forever grieving father to his deceased little daughter, a powerful story of a retired Marine pursuing the truth that the Marine Corps refuses to reveal, and a profound tale that one man can make a difference in this world."
Stuart Nusbaumer, Filmmaker Magazine
"Riveting and often enraging documentary..."
Lloyd Grove, The Daily Beast
"At a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is coming under attack for 'over-regulation,' the film stands as a testimony to what happens when the public's health is neither protected nor considered."
Marcia G. Yerman, Huffington Post Green
"For profiles in pure courage, it doesn't get more sobering than...: Semper Fi: Always Faithful."
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
"Given the passion that Ensminger and others bring to the story, Semper Fi mostly needs to observe...It's not startling, anymore, to hear that a bureaucracy is refusing to take responsibility for damage it's done. But it is still heartening to see the commitment of those fighting."
Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters