Organizers of the GI Film Festival San Diego present a diverse film lineup for their annual festival. For the first time ever, the multi-day military-themed event is streamed online. Established in 2006 and brought to San Diego in 2015, the festival solely presents films and events for, by, and about military service members and veterans.
This year, 38 films representing an array of documentaries, narratives, feature-length, and shorts are included in the lineup focusing on themes such as women in service, the Black military experience, the lasting impacts of the Normandy liberation, post traumatic growth, caregiver experiences, and a pandemic story. The number of films selected is the highest to be included in the San Diego military film festival.
Festival fans, active duty military, veteran supporters, and lovers of independent film can look forward to standout stories, including the documentary feature The Girl Who Wore Freedom that highlights powerful interviews with French survivors and American veterans from WWII; “The Invisible Project,” 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; and “Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation,” a documentary that salutes the 24.5 million children and millenials who have stepped up as frontline heroes caring for family with tough medical conditions.
In 2021, more than half of the lineup includes films made by or starring active duty military or veterans, 11 were made by female directors, eight were directed by first-time filmmakers, and another eight are student films. Festival organizers also saw a significant number of international film submissions this year, with four making the official selection. The GI Film Festival San Diego also honors local filmmakers through the Local Film Showcase, organized in partnership with the Film Consortium San Diego. This year, six films round out the popular showcase, including the return of award-winning veteran filmmaker Mark Vizcarra, whose first film, The Flying Greek, screened in the 2016 GI Film Festival San Diego. Other filmmakers making their return to the GI Film Festival San Diego are Devin and Jeanne Scott (2015, 2017, and 2019), Tracie Hunter and Kyle Olson (2018), and RJ Nevens (2015).
“As the granddaughter of veterans, it is important to me to provide an avenue for these underrepresented stories to be told and retold,” says Nancy Worlie, interim general manager, KPBS. “When I helped bring the festival to San Diego in 2015, I dreamed we would create an everlasting experience that showcases the creative talents of emerging and established filmmakers from around the world, and gives the festival-goer a chance to gain meaningful insight into what it means to serve our country. I am very proud that San Diego is the home of the national, juried festival.”
The virtual platform will accommodate attendees from around the world — not just San Diego. 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 and veterans per screening. All proceeds support the festival. Each ticket holder will receive a unique URL that will provide access to the virtual auditorium on the GI Film Festival San Diego website: gifilmfestivalsd.org.
In addition to the virtual screenings, all 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. “This new on demand feature broadens the accessibility of our festival and the films can be seen by a wider audience,” says Worlie. “It’s now even easier for attendees to participate whenever and from wherever they are.”
Film Selections for the GI Film Festival San Diego as of March 25, 2021:
The following films (in alphabetical order) are confirmed for this year’s virtual GI Film Festival San Diego. Titles are subject to change.
- 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, our 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Brothers in Arms – Brothers in Arms tells a powerful story of hope and courage. Following WW2 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- DREAMS OF THE BLACK ECHO – This is the story of the Vietnam War, told to the younger generation through the experience of American and Vietnamese veterans and the battles of Khe Sanh. A unique co-production with Duy Tan University in Vietnam and Dixie State University film students, faculty, and staff for the DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival, DREAMS OF THE BLACK ECHO features stark historical and current footage and interviews, which enhance an already gripping look at this controversial war and the healing process which happens when soldiers can communicate after the conflict. Documentary Feature / Directed by Phil Tuckett and Tran Anh Tien / 80 minutes / 2020 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / West Coast 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
- THE FARM – Follow transitioning military as well as veterans learn Sustainable Organic Agriculture as a career. Documentary Short / Directed by Shawn Efran / 30 minutes / 2021 / USA / Local Film Showcase
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- From Russia with… Mehh – Matri, born in Deerborn Michigan in the mid 60’s, a daughter to a mail order Russian bride, tells the sad tail 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Life After Oblivion – Story of a Marine sniper experience in Afghanistan and the ghosts he brings back home, struggling with PTSD and effects the rest of his life. Narrative Short / Directed by Floyd Strayer / Nine minutes / 2020 / USA / Local Film Showcase / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation – Sky Blossom is the 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
- 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 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- A WAR ON FRIENDLY GROUNDS – A WAR ON FRIEND GROUNDS is the grim retelling of the true story of Sgt. Carlos Martin veteran’s 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