SAN DIEGO — The GI Film Festival San Diego continues its commitment to featuring films which share the untold stories for, by and about military service members and veterans. Established in 2006 and brought to San Diego in 2015, the national military film festival is back to amplify underrepresented voices and remarkable stories. This year, the GI Film Festival San Diego takes a closer look at the female experience in the military, selecting “The Invisible Project,” a documentary style info-drama, to make its World Premiere as the festival’s opening night film.
“The Invisible Project,” is directed by Pacifica J. Sauer, a filmmaker from Houston, Texas and a U.S. Navy veteran. The story follows the lives of four women as they work to change the public perception of women veterans in America. The documentary demonstrates that service matters and continues when you come home.
Recently, the Marine Corps, the branch with the fewest number of women among the armed services, announced that its two bootcamps are now integrating and welcoming women into its ranks. Stories like “The Invisible Project” are being told during a time where women service members and veterans are starting to be acknowledged as military equals, deserving of the same celebration and recognition as their male counterparts.
“The Invisible Project” is one of nine films in this year’s film festival that focuses on women in the military, including other stories like “Alene B. Duerk: The First Woman Admiral,” “Budding Creativity,” “Burger Day | A Short Story by Audrey di Faye,” “Charlotte Mansfield: a Woman Photographer Goes to War,” “Guide On,” “My War,” “REWIND,” and “Soldiers’ Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan: The Artist’s Process.” A Women Warriors film block will close out the festival on Sunday, May 23 with encore screenings of these select stories that celebrate the contributions of women service members over the years.
The festival moves online, video on demand options available
The 2021 GI Film Festival San Diego is set for May 18-23, 2021 and its virtual format provides the opportunity for attendees around the world to watch 38 films — the highest ever to be included — either live or on demand. The film lineup represents an array of documentaries, narratives, feature-length, and shorts focusing on additional themes including the Black military experience, the lasting impacts of the Normandy liberation, post traumatic growth, caregiver experiences, and a pandemic story. A full film schedule can be found below. The box office is now open for all online showtimes and video on demand (VOD) rentals at GIFilmFestivalSD.org.
The festival schedule will feature nightly online showtimes followed by post-screening discussions with filmmakers, film subjects, and subject-matter experts. These showtimes and discussions will provide audiences the experience to watch together and participate in the discussion in real time in a virtual auditorium – all from the safety and comfort of their homes.
Admission is $10 for general audiences and $8 for military, veterans, and students per screening. All proceeds support the festival. Each ticket holder will receive a unique URL and access code that will provide entry into the virtual auditorium on the GI Film Festival San Diego website. All Access passes are also available for $125 for festival-goers interested in attending every showtime and event, including the online Awards Celebration on Saturday, May 22. The All Access pass holders will also receive a Festival Fun Box, which will be mailed to them and will include a commemorative festival t-shirt, a festival button, a printed festival program, and other goodies like popcorn, chocolates, stationary, hand sanitizer, mask, and more. All Access passes must be purchased by May 7.
In addition to the virtual screenings, the films will also be available as a video on demand rental (VOD), beginning the day after its festival debut through May 26. This gives festival goers the flexibility to participate and enjoy the films whenever they choose within the rental window. Attendees will have the choice to either attend the online showtime for a synchronized watch and / or rent and watch on-demand. Each option requires a separate fee.
The history behind the largest military film festival in the U.S.
With San Diego’s multi-faceted military history and seven major bases between the Navy, Marines, and the Coast Guard, it’s only fitting that the region is home to the largest military film festival in the United States. Since its inception in 2015, the GI Film Festival San Diego has presented more than 170 films from international, U.S., and San Diego County, and has attracted thousands of attendees from various backgrounds. To help bridge the military-civilian divide, each film selected tells a compelling and unique story. The GI Film Festival San Diego challenges notions about what it means to serve and goes beyond one-dimensional depictions of veterans, service members, their caregivers and families.
The festival has also hosted several celebrities whose films had been presented at GIFFSD events, including documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Ric Burns; actor and activist George Takei; actor Matthew Marsden; actor/producer/director Jeffrey Wright; and actor/director Brenda Strong.
Every year, films selected for the festival are curated by members of the GI Film Festival San Diego advisory committee. The film festival has active support from several military-related organizations, such as Project Recover, Workshops for Warriors, Travis Manion Foundation, Elizabeth Hospice, Challenged Athletes Foundation, Blue Star Families San Diego, American History Theatre, San Diego Military Family Collaborative, Armed Services YMCA, Southern Caregiver Resource Center, Courage to Call, and Joan & Art Barron Veterans Center at San Diego State University. Members of the advisory committee come from various military backgrounds, including veterans of the US Marine Corps, US Air Force, US Navy, US Army, US Coast Guard, as well as Air Force Reserves, and several military spouses, all who volunteer their time, talent, and expertise to ensure the festival provides an authentic view of the military experience and engages its audience through post-screening discussions.
Film Schedule for the GI Film Festival San Diego:
The following films (in chronological order) are confirmed for this year’s virtual GI Film Festival San Diego. Titles are subject to change.
Tuesday, May 18 – Opening Night
● 7:00 P.M. PDT – “The Invisible Project” – “The Invisible Project” is a documentary style info-drama that follows the lives of four women as they work to change the public perception of women Veterans in America. In the film, they demonstrate that service matters, and the service continues when they come home, as women and as veterans. Documentary Feature / Directed by Pacifica J. Sauer / 81 minutes / 2019 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / World Premiere
Wednesday, May 19
● 5:00 P.M. PDT – “Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation” – “Sky Blossom” is a film salute to 2020. It is a raw, uplifting window into 24.5 million children and millennials stepping forward as frontline heroes. Caring for family with tough medical conditions, they stay at home doing things often seen only in hospitals. They are cheerleaders, work part time, and go to college — but also live double lives — quietly growing up as America’s next greatest generation. The filmmaker, veteran journalist and award-winning CNN/MSNBC news anchor Richard Lui says the interviews were so honest they genuinely surprised him, as they revealed insights into the lives of young people across America. Troops used to look up and say, “Here come the Sky Blossoms” — paratroopers rushing to their aid. Today, there is a new generation answering that call. These are their stories. Documentary Feature / Directed by Richard Lui / 88 minutes / 2020 / USA
● 7:15 P.M. PDT – “The Girl Who Wore Freedom” – Normandy, France. Once an idyllic landscape, Normandy had succumbed to German invaders who overran its farms, its manors, its countryside. Here we meet Dany, Maurice, Henri-Jean, and others, who share their relationships with Allied forces who liberated Normandy. The journey from occupation to liberation, to acceptance and forgiveness, to gratitude and pride, is explored through interviews with French survivors and American veterans. We are reminded who America can be at her very best: when she values people over politics, seeks to right the wrongs of injustice, and sacrifices, when necessary, so others might be free. Documentary Feature / Directed by Christian Taylor / 89 minutes / 2020 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / West Coast Premiere
● “Lead The Way” – As a retired United States Army Ranger, Special Forces Green Beret, and Tier 1 Assault Sergeant Major, John “Shrek” McPhee has seen the world and war like few have. In this documentary short, John travels through Ireland and France to learn about the sacrifices of the Allied Forces during World War II and the history of the United States Army Rangers and Paratroopers. The film takes place during the 75th Anniversary of D-day, in Normandy, France. Documentary Short / Directed by Josh Carrasquillo / Nine minutes / 2020 / USA / West Coast Premiere / This film will precede “The Girl Who Wore Freedom.”
Thursday, May 20
Shorts Block | Stories of Healing & Resilience, Starting at 5:00 P.M. PDT
● “The Long River Home” – Aaron Howell and Russell Davies are combat veterans who were injured in war and now come together for another mission as they guide blind Navy veteran, Lonnie Bedwell, on his third trip through the Grand Canyon. Over a 14 day river trip they battle more than 80 powerful rapids, screaming directions to Lonnie the whole way. Always looming downstream roars Lava Falls, the largest rapid of them all. Throughout the journey they remember their past experiences and learn that negotiating the rapids of life is as simple as forming a team, kicking out in the current, and finding a line through the chaos. Documentary Short / Directed by Seth Dahl / 20 minutes / 2019 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
● “THE FARM” – They only knew the life of a soldier. Now, their next battle begins on home soil. This powerful documentary follows a group of veterans through a rigorous six-week farming school. Produced by Tribeca Studios. Documentary Short / Directed by Shawn Efran / 30 minutes / 2021 / USA / Local Film Showcase
● “Soldiers’ Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan: The Artist’s Process” – In her series, “Soldiers’ Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan,” artist Jennifer Karady collaborates with returning military veterans to restage a moment from war, producing narrative photographs that reveal how their war experiences infiltrate their daily civilian lives. The film chronicles the intricate and intimate process between Karady and one of her subjects, former Army Specialist Lucero Morales, as they connect a traumatic incident in Najaf, Iraq, with the popping sound of a biscuit can as Morales prepares breakfast for her children. They ultimately stage a photograph that helps Morales begin to heal. Documentary Short / Directed by Jennifer Karady / 18 minutes / 2020 / USA / San Diego Premiere
● “The Khe Sanh Peace Garden” – This touching and hopeful film is about a medevac helicopter pilot who found peace within himself and with his mortal enemies when he tries to build a peace garden at the Khe Sanh Combat Base where he was stationed during the Viet Nam War. Documentary Short / Directed by Tinh Mahoney / 26 minutes / 2020 / Viet Nam / San Diego Premiere
● 7:15 P.M. PDT – “UNITED WE HEAL” – Follow the journey of America’s veterans as they attempt to overcome the trauma of PTS and search for growth and healing with the help of the very civilians they served to protect. Documentary Feature / Directed by Ryan Welch and Ryan Rossman / 71 minutes / 2020 / USA / World Premiere
● “Budding Creativity” – An African American, wife, military veteran, and mother of three explores creative transferability during COVID-19. Documentary Short / Directed by Kay Barnes / Nine minutes / 2020 / USA / Student Film / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / World Premiere / This film precedes “UNITED WE HEAL.”
Friday, May 21
● 4:00 P.M. PDT – “A Band to Honor” – Using archival footage, photographs, and personal interviews, “A Band to Honor” tells the story of 21 young naval musicians. These individuals were among the 1,177 USS Arizona members who lost their lives when the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As the day of infamy arrives, an incredible account of the attack on Pearl Harbor is offered with an extraordinary animation sequence and the eyewitness testimony of three Pearl Harbor survivors, two of which were crewmembers of the USS Arizona. The tragic final minutes of the band are detailed, clearing up the many misconceptions about the USS Arizona Band’s fate. Documentary Feature / Directed by Warren Hull / 77 minutes / 2020 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / West Coast Premiere
● “Alene B. Duerk: The First Woman Admiral” – “Alene B. Duerk: The First Woman Admiral” is a short documentary that tells the story of how Alene Duerk overcame gender stereotypes in the military to accomplish the highest rank ever achieved by a woman in the history of the US Navy. Documentary Short / Directed by Eliciana Nascimento / Nine minutes / 2020 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere / This film precedes “A Band to Honor.”
Shorts Block | Local Dramas, Starting at 6:15 p.m. PDT
● “From Russia with… Mehh” – Matri, born in Dearborn, Michigan in the mid 60s, a daughter to a mail order Russian bride, tells the sad tale of growing up with a narcissistic mother and how she discovered the American Dream the hard way. Made almost completely with old super 8mm footage found at swap meets and estate sales, this unique style of film will leave you appreciating your childhood. Who knows, it might be a true story…Narrative Short / Directed by Devin Scott / 17 minutes / 2020 / USA / Local Film Showcase / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / World Premiere
● “Tiger Oak + Echo” – When Echo is allowed to join his brother in an ambush against Soviet forces, he makes a mistake that costs them everything. Narrative Short / Directed by Cy Kuckenbaker / 19 minutes / USA / Local Film Showcase
● “Life After Oblivion” – “Life After Oblivion” is the story of a Marine sniper returning from Afghanistan and the ghosts that come with him. It focuses on a single traumatic event among many. The screenplay is based on the true story “Oblivion” written by veteran Adam Stone as a way to show what veterans struggle with when they return home. Narrative Short / Directed by Floyd Strayer / Nine minutes / 2020 / USA / Local Film Showcase / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans
● “The 11th Order” – The true story of two U.S. Marines who, in a span of six seconds, must stand their ground to stop a suicide truck bomb and protect the lives of the 150 Marines and Iraqi Police behind them. Less about glorifying warfare or the true event itself, the film aims to provide context to the unimaginable: to show these young men as ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances, and explain why there was never doubt in their actions that fateful morning. Narrative Short / Directed by Joshua DeFour / 25 minutes / 2019 / USA / Local Film Showcase / Student Film / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
Shorts Block | Drama Night, Starting at 8:30 p.m. PDT
● “Guide On” – On her first day of basic training, Halle Varro, a young Army recruit, stands out among her peers as she competes to be the guidon bearer. Halle’s attitude of defiance and winning at all costs puts her in Drill Sergeant Mallett’s crosshairs. Can Halle rise to the challenge and become the first female guidon bearer? Inspired by true events. Narrative Short / Directed by Paige Compton / 16 minutes / 2020 / USA / Student Film / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
● “Beauty for Ashes” – A film showcasing the power of forgiveness in the most challenging of circumstances. Narrative Short / Directed by Jamie Humphris / Seven minutes / 2020 / Australia / U.S. Premiere
● “The Children’s Crusade” – Two young men, on opposite sides, meet on the battlefield in Iraq; but this could be any battlefield. Had they met anywhere else they might have been friends, but this is Fallujah. This film is intended to educate the public on the cruelty, the brutality, and the fog of war while also showing the human side and the bonds that tie all of us together. Narrative Short / Directed by Joe Mery / Five minutes / 2020 / USA / Made By or Starring Veterans or Military / World Premiere
● “My War” – Haunted by the memories of war, a veteran struggles to return to normal life. Nina experiences a severe PTSD episode during her first Independence Day in America. As the explosions of the fireworks intensify, so too does her anxiety. Alone and without any support, she is forced to relive a traumatic event related to her combat experience in a supermarket. Narrative Short / Directed by Jojo Erholtz / Four minutes / 2019 / USA / Student Film / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans
● “REWIND” – A mother is grieving over her daughter, who died in combat, through the help of futuristic technology. Narrative Short / Directed by Stephan Eigenmann / 14 minutes / 2019 / USA / Student Film / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
● “A WAR ON FRIENDLY GROUNDS” – “A WAR ON FRIENDLY GROUNDS” is the grim retelling of the true story of Sgt. Carlos Martin, a veteran who experiences a violent encounter with the police after serving his country. Narrative Short / Directed by King Jaquell Martin and Deante Gray / 13 minutes / 2020 / USA / Student Film / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans
● “Burger Day | A Short Story by Audrey di Faye” – An Asian-American woman confronts a veteran about his service when he harasses a food service worker over the restaurant’s Veteran Day special. “Burger Day,” was inspired by Greek tragedy, Euripedes’ “Hecuba.” It is a synthesis of a modern veteran experience and the ancient theater arts. Narrative Short / Directed by Audrey di Faye / Six minutes / 2020 / USA / Student Film / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
● “Saved Rounds” – Drawn from the writer Doc Farrow’s experiences as a US Navy combat corpsman in Iraq, “Saved Rounds” looks at the devastating pain of loss, survivor’s guilt, the redeeming qualities of love and honor, and the fragile glimmer of hope in those whose lives are forever changed by war. Film has foul language, some violence. Narrative Short / Directed by John Finn / 17 minutes / 2019 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
Saturday, May 22
● 11:30 A.M. PDT – “The Final Stand” – October 1941. Fascist hordes rush to Moscow. As a result of the breakthrough of the defensive line on one of the direct highways, there were no regular units of the Red Army left and the invaders were able to move in freely. Soviet high command decides to close the gap with cadets from the Podolsk infantry and artillery schools, many of whom were about 18 years old. Their task is to hold out for five days until the reserves arrive. The cadets held out for twelve. Аt a cost of their lives, they did not allow the enemy to reach Moscow, and thereby changed the course of war. The film is about heroism, about love, about true friendship. Narrative Feature / Directed by Vadim Shmelyov / 136 minutes / 2020 / Russian Federation / U.S. Premiere
● 2:15 P.M. PDT – “DREAMS OF THE BLACK ECHO” – These days, Vietnam’s lush green countryside, tropical mountains, and white sandy beaches attract tourists from around the world. However, 50 years ago, these same beaches witnessed the landing of US Marines while airstrips and combat bases were cut into the fields and mountaintops. An entire generation of American boys became the soldiers who fought and died here while political controversy raged at home over this war. The same generation of young Vietnamese men and women likewise became soldiers in a war that was divisive in their own homeland. Six US veterans and six Vietnamese veterans who fought and survived now tell their stories to young Vietnamese and American university filmmakers in a unique documentary film which transitions between the segments independently produced in the US and in Vietnam. Documentary Feature / Directed by Phil Tuckett and Tran Anh Tien / 80 minutes / 2020 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / West Coast Premiere
Shorts Block | Afternoon Drama, Starting at 4:30 p.m. PDT
● “Fort Irwin” – Cristian arrives for his first day of work as an amputee actor at Fort Irwin, a military base in the California desert. For his new job, Cristian will act as if his legs have been destroyed by a bomb while wearing gory prosthetics as a part of soldiers’ training exercises. Cristian, an injured veteran himself, enters the artificial military simulation to confront his real combat trauma. Haunted by the past, he fights to transform his fear into a source of strength. Narrative Short / Directed by Quinn Else / 11 minutes / 2019 / USA / Student Film / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
● “The Sweatshirt” – Olivia and Sarah are hoping to make a routine stop to retrieve Sarah’s favorite sweatshirt from her ex-boyfriend’s house. But when Jeff shows no interest in complying with this reasonable request, they are forced to go head-to-head with one of Chicago’s most despicable exes. Jeff takes the sweatshirt as his hostage, leaving Olivia no choice but to negotiate the terms of the hoodie’s release. Narrative Short / Directed by Jonah Saesan / Eight minutes / 2019 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
● “Walking Point” – A Marine is always faithful. So is man’s best friend. Walking Point centers around a young Marine, Private John Markle, and his donated canine companion, Duke. They must survive battle in the Pacific in order to fulfill the two promises he made prior to being shipped out. Narrative Short / Directed by RJ Nevens, Jr. / 27 minutes / 2019 / USA / San Diego Premiere
● “Early Light” – A 24-hour glimpse into an Equine Therapy Program where two Wyoming veterans turn to the healing power of horses to battle their PTSD. Allen and Sam find themselves on a path to self-destruction. Sometimes the only one who hears our cry for help is the last one we expect to be listening. Narrative Short / Directed by Ted Schneider / 17 minutes / 2020 / USA / San Diego Premiere
● “Amazing Grace” – “Amazing Grace” tells the story of a young woman looking after her father, a Vietnam veteran struggling with alcoholism and PTSD, in which dealing with the challenges of everyday life can require an extraordinary amount of patience, understanding, love… and grace. Narrative Short / Directed by Nina Brissey / 23 minutes / 2020 / USA / San Diego Premiere
Sunday, May 23
Shorts Block | Documentaries, starting at 12:00 p.m. PDT
● “Forgotten Heroes” – The legacy of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore still resonates today. But what of those from the island who fought on battlefields thousands of miles from home? “Forgotten Heroes” follows the stories of four courageous individuals from Singapore who found themselves in far-flung theatres of war. From the blood-soaked beaches of Northern France to the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, from the violent skies over southern China to the brutalities of a Japanese POW camp in Java, this documentary recounts the incredible true stories of four Singaporeans who lived through turbulent times. Documentary Short / Directed by Tom St. John Gray / 49 minutes / 2020 / Singapore / West Coast Premiere
● “Brothers in Arms” – “Brothers in Arms” tells a powerful story of hope and courage. Following WWII Combat Marine veteran Charlie Kohler from his childhood in the Heartland to a promising major league baseball career that’s cut short by the break out of the war. Documentary Short / Directed by Tracie Hunter / 22 minutes / 2020 / USA / West Coast Premiere
● “Charlotte Mansfield: a Woman Photographer Goes to War” – Drawing from an extraordinary archive of unpublished military photographs and personal correspondence, as well as expert and family interviews, “Charlotte Mansfield, a Woman Photographer Goes to War” tells the story of Sgt. Charlotte Dee Mansfield’s pioneering career as a Women’s Army Corps photographer during World War II. Documentary Short / Directed by Brian Graves / 27 minutes / 2019 / USA / West Coast Premiere
● 2:30 P.M. PDT – “Liberation Heroes: The Last Eyewitnesses” – Heroic World War II veterans vividly share their liberation journeys, drawing parallels between the past and present. These powerful eyewitness accounts from Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive®, share a cautionary tale and compelling reminder of what can happen when insidious hatred remains unchecked. Documentary Short / Directed by Vanessa Roth / 42 minutes / 2019 / USA
● “A Flash of Green” – After being wounded by the first explosions at Pearl Harbor, Charles McCandless fought in the most critical battles against Imperial Japan in World War II. Midway, Guadalcanal, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima, to name a few. When he got home, like many veterans, he never talked about it. When Sandra McCandless Simons first read her father’s memoir, its revelations inspired her to publish his book so that others could experience his unique perspective on the war in the Pacific. Using newly-discovered archive footage along with unique images from McCandless family scrapbooks, this film brings the vivid storytelling of Charles’ memoir to the screen, along with fresh insight and humanity to one of the most consequential military struggles in history. Documentary Short / Directed by Edward Nachtrieb / 41 minutes / 2020 / USA / San Diego Premiere / This film precedes “Liberation Heroes: The Last Eyewitnesses.”
Shorts Block | Closing Night Duo, Starting at 4:45 p.m. PDT
● “Actions Speak Louder than Medals – the Royce Williams Story” – On 18 November, 1952, Royce Williams found himself alone in an aerial duel against SEVEN superior, aggressively flown Russian MiGs. In the 38 minutes that followed, he bested at least four and just-barely brought his wounded F9F Panther back to the carrier….where he was promptly told that what had just happened “didn’t.” True to his values, Royce put the spectacular event out of his mind and continued his service, quietly, humbly — only telling his wife when informed (over FIFTY YEARS LATER) that the moment was now “unclassified.” Today, at age 95, Royce is finally (and somewhat bewildered by) the attention he deserves. But behind every great hero story is an even greater back-story proving out that the actions behind great deeds are their own reward. Documentary Short / Directed by John Mollison / 20 minutes / 2020 / USA
● “Hun Pilots” – A documentary about the heroic men who survived America’s first supersonic fighter, the F-100 Super Saber, an iconic fighter that flew more combat sorties in the Vietnam War than any other fighter. Documentary Short / Directed by Mark Vizcarra / 57 minutes / 2019 / USA / Local Film Showcase / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans
Shorts Block | Woman Warriors, Starting at 5:30 p.m. PDT
Closing out the film festival will be an encore screening of the following films:
● “Charlotte Mansfield: a Woman Photographer Goes to War”
● “Soldiers’ Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan: The Artist’s Process”
● “Alene B. Duerk: The First Woman Admiral”
● “Budding Creativity”
● “My War”
● “Guide On”