SAN MARCOS — On May 8, Cal State San Marcos film students Sebastian Maselli and Ryan Smith left San Diego en route to Washington, D.C. The men are finalists in the “student” category at the GI Film Festival for their documentary, “Blood We Shed.” The winner will be announced at the closing of the event on May 15.
The festival is the first in the nation to celebrate the heroic stories of success and sacrifice of the American military through the medium of film. It is open to domestic and international filmmakers of every experience level, from first-timers to veteran directors and producers.
“Blood We Shed” features oral accounts of three Marines in the Wounded Warrior Battalion barracks at Camp Pendleton. The facility provides a transition for Marines between hospitalization, for conditions such as missing limbs and PTSD, and the time they can return to their unit.
Maselli and Smith met in 2009 on the first day of a documentary class taught by Jonathan Berman. When Maselli mentioned that he was an active duty Marine and worked with the wounded warrior battalion at Camp Pendleton, Smith explained that his mother, Barbara Smith, was a nurse case manager at the base hospital who also worked with wounded warriors.
Maselli had previously won “Best Documentary” for “Sacrifices” at the CSUSM Student Media Film Festival.
“Sebastian showed me his film and I was blown away,” Smith recalls, adding that he suggested that they collaborate on a film for their class project.
Because Maselli was the barracks manager, with access to the wounded warriors, he took responsibility for recruiting participants, securing waivers and filming the interviews with his own equipment. Much of the filming was done in the privacy of the men’s rooms.
“This is one of the most difficult times for them because they are forced not to do physical training or work,” he explained.
Instead, much of their life revolves around keeping medical appointments, which they do with the aid of government-issued Blackberries to tickle their memories and stay on schedule.
“This project gave them a purpose, and momentum to go back to work,” Maselli explained. “It was rewarding to see them get on their feet and be productive again.”
After filming was completed, Smith took over, handling the sound and editing for the film, which they originally titled “To Hell and Back.”
“It was a little long and rushed,” Maselli admits. “Our instructor motivated us to make it better. He said to reduce it from 45 to 15 minutes.”
The men decided to change the title and turn the class project into a documentary film with the goal of entering it in the GI Film Festival. Originally, they considered submitting the piece in 2009 but decided that it was important to take their time to perfect it.
Although the deadline for submissions was March 10, the DVD was mailed a day late and arrived on March 14. On March 17 they were notified via e-mail that they were nominated.
“I was just in shock because I wasn’t expecting to hear for a few weeks,” said Maselli, who called Smith in Arizona.
Smith was equally surprised. “I said to Sebastian, ‘Are you sure?’” he remembers. “It shocked us.”
Smith said he was motivated to produce the documentary after being a loyal viewer of the Military Channel and hearing stories from veterans like his grandfather who served during World War II.
Today, there is the added benefit of digital technology which makes it is easier to capture stories while memories are fresh.
“What amazes me is that these are kids volunteering for military service,” Smith said. “This is not a draft, not Vietnam. They are choosing to go into the military and serving their country before going to college.”
Maselli and Smith formed Mamith Productions and are currently collaborating on another film project between Cal State San Marcos and USC.
A portion of their trip to D.C. is being underwritten by Rick Roberts’ Warrior Fund.
To preview “Blood They Shed,” visit youtube.com/watch?v=WznB7mAMSeQ.
For more information about the film festival, visit gifilmfestival.com.