East County News Service
April 26, 2023 (San Diego) -- The 2023 GI Film Festival San Diego opens Monday, May 15 starting at 6 p.m. at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) in Balboa Park, and runs through Saturday, May 20. Opening Night will feature a trio of local films, as well as a reception where festival guests can socialize over small bites and refreshments. Tickets for Opening Night cost $25 for general admission and $20 for military, veterans or KPBS members. All tickets can be purchased online now at GIFilmFestivalSD.org.
An evening dedicated to local ties, tales and trailblazers
To kick off Opening Night, attendees will be treated to the San Diego premiere of “The Making of TOPGUN 2,” directed by award-winning filmmaker and military veteran Mark Vizcarra. A 4S Ranch resident, Vizcarra has been a longtime GI Film Festival San Diego participant and supporter. Over the years, Vizcarra has been honored with several GI Film Festival San Diego awards, including Best Narrative Short (2017) and Best Film Made by A Veteran or Servicemember (2017) for his film “Once Guilty, Now Innocent, Still Dead,” and Best Film Made by or Starring Veterans or Military (2018) for “Thud Pilots.” This year, his 30-minute documentary gives audience members a behind-the-scenes look at the U.S. Navy’s support of the making of the 2022 action drama “Top Gun: Maverick.”
The Opening Night reception will follow at 6:30 p.m., giving attendees an opportunity to meet and greet with filmmakers, film subjects, and other movie lovers before the main screening. At 7:30 p.m., the evening will continue with the dual screening of “Time for Change: The Kathy Bruyere Story” and “Ultimate Sacrifices: CPT Jennifer Moreno.” Award-winning documentary filmmaker and Iraq War veteran Daniel Bernardi directed both films.
Making its U.S. premiere, “Time for Change: The Kathy Bruyere Story” details retired U.S. Navy Captain Kathy Bruyere’s determination to create more equitable opportunities for women serving in the military in the late 1970s. Bruyere, who lived and worked in San Diego, challenged centuries of Navy tradition and made history by fighting for the rights of female service members to serve at sea. A trailblazer, Bruyere shattered glass ceilings and inspired countless military careers here in San Diego and around the country. In 1976, she was featured on the cover of Time magazine along with 11 other women as "Women of the Year." Bruyere passed away in San Diego in September 2020 at age 76, and is interred at Miramar National Cemetery.
Directly after will be the screening of “Ultimate Sacrifices: CPT Jennifer Moreno,” which pays homage to the life and career of U.S. Army Captain Jennifer Moreno. Moreno grew up in San Diego and was a leader in San Diego High School’s JROTC program. A core member of the Cultural Support Team in Afghanistan, Moreno and an elite female squad engaged in dangerous combat operations while providing allied forces a means to communicate with the local women. The documentary features interviews with Moreno’s close friends and family left behind after she made the ultimate sacrifice. Moreno is interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma. To further honor her service and sacrifice, the San Diego VA Medical Center in La Jolla renamed their building in December 2022 to the Jennifer Moreno Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Students from San Diego High School’s JROTC program will present the colors prior to the screening. Bernardi and those interviewed in the films are expected to be in attendance and will participate in a post-screening discussion, including Catherine “Kat” Harris (for “Ultimate Sacrifices”) and Thomas Bruyere, Kathy’s son (for “Time for Change”). Additional subject-matter experts and members of the filmmaking team are also expected to attend.
Both documentaries were filmed predominantly in San Diego at sites including Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Miramar National Cemetery, and Coronado Island. In addition, these films exemplify the GI Film Festival San Diego’s mission to showcase diverse stories, honor the sacrifice made by local heroes, create a transformative cinema experience and help bridge the military-civilian divide.
In addition, Bernardi’s military background lends a uniquely qualified filmmaking perspective. He served in Iraq, leading Combat Camera for U.S. Army 5th and 10th Special Forces Groups. Bernardi’s experiences in the Navy also included tours at sea, in Europe, South East Asia, and Guantanamo Bay. In his civilian life, Bernardi is now a Professor of Cinema at San Francisco State University and director of several award-winning films, including “The American War” (2018), “Noble Sissle’s Syncopated Ragtime” (2019), and “The War to End All Wars… and its American Veterans” (2020). In 2021, the documentary short “Alene B. Durek: The First Woman Admiral” that Bernardi helped produce was selected to screen in the GI Film Festival San Diego’s “Women Warriors” lineup.
“We are incredibly excited to open this year’s festival with three local films that not only showcase our beautiful city, but also spotlight stories that would not otherwise be told on the big screen,” says Jodi Cilley, founder and president, Film Consortium San Diego. “As a film teacher and someone who has taught many veterans, it’s thrilling to see this year’s festival open with not one, but three films created by two military veterans turned filmmakers to showcase their talents, amplify their voices, and celebrate their work.”
31 films in six nights to honor our military and veterans around the world
This year, the GI Film Festival San Diego will screen 31 films over six days. All film screenings will culminate with uniquely invigorating panel discussions where attendees will have the opportunity to hear from filmmakers, film subjects, actors, and subject-matter experts. The festival week will conclude on Saturday, May 20 with the anticipated Awards Celebration with returning host, stand-up comedian and army combat veteran Thom Tran.
Additional themes in this year’s festival include military sexual trauma, suicide awareness, post-traumatic stress, invisible wounds, and transitioning from military to civilian life. The festival will also bring true stories about San Diego heroes, World War II aviators, and service dogs to the big screen. Unique military experiences from the Ukrainian War, Civil War, as well as a story about a Black Vietnam War veteran’s perspective, will also be shared. Audiences can also watch fictionalized stories that place veterans, service members, and current events at the center of the plotline, including exciting espionage adventures, a romantic western, and an apocalyptic zombie invasion.
Other local films this year include “Touch,” a narrative short that takes place amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and features a cast and crew of San Diego residents; “Major,” a documentary short from San Diego filmmaker James Wright about one man’s post-911 journey from Hollywood actor to Army Major to retirement; “Let’s Talk About The War,” a documentary narrated by combat veteran and local film director Nick Betts; and “Echoes of Resilience,” a documentary short filmed in San Diego, about a series of PTSD-related tragedies that force a devoted mental health advocate to redefine her life.
A complete list of this year’s film lineup can be found at the end of this news release.
The online box office is now open. Tickets for most screenings start at $10 each or $8 for military, veterans, and KPBS members. Guests will be asked to assess their health before attending and remain home if they are sick or test positive for COVID-19 or other infectious illness. Attendees, regardless of vaccination status, always have the option to wear a facial covering while attending events and screenings.
For up-to-date information on this year’s film festival, how to attend, and ways to get involved, visit GIFilmFestivalSD.org. If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor of the GI Film Festival San Diego, contact GIFilmFestivalSD@kpbs.org.
Nearly a decade of celebrating our military and veterans through film
Since its inception in 2015, the GI Film Festival San Diego has presented 236 films from international, U.S. and San Diego County filmmakers, and has attracted thousands of attendees from various backgrounds. The film festival is dedicated to bridging the military-civilian divide with each film selected telling a compelling and unique story. The GI Film Festival San Diego challenges the notions about what it means to serve, goes beyond one-dimensional depictions of veterans, service members, their caregivers and families, and provides a platform for service members-turned-filmmakers to showcase their creative stories on the big screen.
Over the years, the festival has also hosted several celebrities whose films have been presented at GI Film Festival San Diego 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, members of the GI Film Festival San Diego advisory committee help review films for the final festival selection. The film festival has active support from several military and veteran-related organizations, such as San Diego State University’s Art and Joan Barron Veterans Center, Project Recover, Travis Manion Foundation, Elizabeth Hospice, Challenged Athletes Foundation, Blue Star Families San Diego, San Diego Military Family Collaborative, Armed Services YMCA, Southern Caregiver Resource Center and the Foundation for Women Warriors. Members of the advisory committee also come from SAG-AFTRA and many have military backgrounds, having served in the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and the Air Force Reserves. Several are military or veteran spouses. All committee members 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.
About GI Film Festival San Diego
Established in 2015, the GI Film Festival San Diego is a multi-day showcase of films for, by and about military and veteran experiences. Films featured in the festival reveal the experiences of service members, veterans and their families. The festival also provides veterans and service members with an opportunity to further their creative skills.
Documentaries, shorts, narratives, and feature-length films are presented. The festival includes international and local films. Local films feature San Diego’s filmmakers, events, people, or places.
Film screenings are followed by discussions with filmmakers, actors and/or documentary subjects. The festival concludes with an exciting awards celebration, honoring excellence in film making across more than a dozen categories.
The 2023 festival is sponsored in part by CalVet, Military Times, Scatena Daniels Communications. AARP, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), Lewis University, SAG-AFTRA, US Bank, the USS Midway Foundation and Veterans United Home Loans of San Diego.
The GI Film Festival San Diego is a member of the San Diego Veterans Coalition and the San Diego Military Family Collaborative.
About Film Consortium San Diego
The Film Consortium San Diego is a social venture that stimulates film and television production in the region and increases networking, employment, education, funding and distribution opportunities in film, television and new media. The Film Consortium hosts and organizes the San Diego Film Awards, San Diego Film Week, and various screening and networking events.
The following film lineup is listed in alphabetical order:
- “#IamVanessaGuillen” – The murder of Army soldier Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood military base hit too close to home for Karina Lopez. Two years after surviving sexual assault on the same base, she created a viral Facebook post with the hashtag #IamVanessaGuillen. Facing retaliation, she and other Latina soldiers have pushed forward as they fight for justice. Contains descriptions of sexual violence and suicidal ideation. Viewer discretion advised. Documentary Feature / Directed by Andrea Patiño Contreras / 72 minutes / 2022 / USA / San Diego Premiere
- “Brainstorms” – “Brainstorms” is an experiential look inside the mind of Brian, a veteran who has sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during combat. The film follows Brian’s struggle returning to home life with his wife and daughter. While experiencing a panic attack in a hospital parking garage, Brian meets a young VA nurse named Danielle who is in the process of recovering from her own TBI. Narrative Short / Directed by Aron Meinhardt and Julie Pacino / 16 minutes / 2021 / USA / West Coast Premiere
- “BY MY SIDE” – Set in Northern California, “BY MY SIDE” is an intimate portrait of three veterans suffering from the “invisible wound,” called post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is the most prevalent and unhealed wound suffered by veterans. Approximately 20% of those who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are still haunted by visions, chased by enemies they can never outrun, and tortured by the fear that the enemy is them. The three veterans and their families bravely share their pain, fear, and the difficult realization that they’ve lost time and love that they may never get back again. All three found hope where no one had looked—in the heart of a faithful service dog. Documentary Short / Directed by Vicki Topaz and Wynn Padula / 30 minutes / 2023 / USA / World Premiere
- “CHORUS” – After missing his wife's phone call goodbye on the morning of September 11, a now listless and brokenhearted music teacher must harmonize with his increasingly desperate fourteen-year-old son. Narrative Short / Directed by Daniel J. Egbert / 20 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / Student Film / San Diego Premiere
- “Echoes of Resilience” – “Echoes of Resilience” throws you on a turbulent journey through a series of PTSD-related tragedies that force a devoted mental health advocate to redefine her life. The film embraces love, kindness, and humanitarianism in a way that reminds us that even the darkest clouds can still have silver linings. Documentary Short / Directed by Alex Frey and Brady Ferdig / 14 minutes / 2022 / USA / Local Film
- “The Gentle Sex” – The year is 1999. For 45 years Connie Brown (Dame Joan Collins) has enjoyed a safe and quiet life at Stathie Manor. Hidden in the remote English countryside, Stathie Manor is no ordinary home and she is no ordinary woman. The walled and gated house had been requisitioned at the beginning of World War II with one highly secret purpose: to train female agents of the Special Operations Executive for top-secret work behind enemy lines. It still does not appear on any map. Repurposed in the 1950s, the woman who remains there is now the custodian of the property and its unique secrets. Whenever Stathie Manor is threatened, she is heavily protected. But in fact, she can very much look after herself. Narrative Short / Directed by John Adams / 5 minutes / 2021 / United Kingdom / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
- “The Gift” – “The Gift” is the story of Medal of Honor recipient, Corporal Jason L. Dunham and the Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. It is a story of courage, sacrifice, and love. How will we live? How will we make a difference? These are the questions the Marines of Kilo Company ask themselves, as they search for a purpose and gather the strength to move forward with their lives. Documentary Feature / Directed by David Carl Kniess / 121 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / West Coast Premiere
- “Hollywood Post 43’s Last Stand” – When zombies attack, the American Legion's Hollywood Post 43 rallies for the good of the Legion. Narrative Short / Directed by John Mendoza / 8 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
- “Jerry’s Last Mission” – P-51 fighter pilot Jerry Yellin flew combat missions on Iwo Jima and over Japan, including the last combat mission of World War II. He returned home with PTSD, suffering with survivor's guilt and daily thoughts of suicide, and with a deep hatred for the Japanese. This is the story of how Yellin overcame PTSD and how he was forced to face his enemy once again when his youngest son moved to Japan and married the daughter of a Kamikaze pilot. Documentary Feature / Directed by Louisa Merino / 58 minutes / 2021 / USA / World Premiere
- “LEAVE” – Guy is a soldier and in daily mortal danger in the Israel of today. Hadas is his wife and is desperately scared of losing him, and the future she so desires with Guy. From this conflict comes a blindingly hard and surprisingly intimate drama. Contains nudity and sexual content. Viewer discretion advised. Narrative Short / Directed by Adam Alon / 14 minutes / 2021 / Israel / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / U.S. Premiere
- “Let’s Talk About the War” – Combat veteran Nick Betts reflects on the realities of war as a generational conflict comes to an ignominious end. He speaks with men about the impact war has had on their lives, the loss of youth and innocence, and the physical and emotional damage it caused. The conversations range from humorous to contemplative, emotional, and serious. While never ignoring the pain, Nick showcases veterans who successfully transitioned to civilian life, embracing the empowerment of their experiences and not succumbing to victimhood. Documentary Feature / Directed by Nicholas Betts / 83 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / Local Film / World Premiere
- “Major” – In the late ‘90s, Scott Eberlein was a successful actor living in Hollywood. After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, Scott joined the Army to defend and protect our country. He worked his way up the flagpole, eventually reaching the rank of Major. Now, 21 years later, Scott is ready to retire and is preparing to adjust to his new life as a civilian and veteran. Documentary Short / Directed by James Wright / 7 minutes / 2022 / USA / Student Film / Local Film / World Premiere
- “The Making of TOPGUN 2” – The behind-the-scenes documentary of the United States Navy's support in the making of the blockbuster sequel to “Top Gun.” The Navy advisors assigned to assist the director and producers of “Top Gun: Maverick” talk about the challenges of making a realistic film about tactical carrier aviation. In addition to documenting exclusive untold stories from the Navy representatives assigned to the production, audiences will hear from real TOPGUN instructors and fighter pilots on their thoughts of the movie. Strap in to be surprised and entertained as they review the 2022 summer blockbuster. Documentary Short / Directed by Mark Vizcarra / 30 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / Local Film / San Diego Premiere
- “Mariupol Defender” – The film follows the journey of Roman, a 20-year-old Ukrainian warrior who lost a hand and a leg while defending Mariupol in April 2022. After being captured by the Russians and spending three weeks in prison, Roman is eventually exchanged and travels to the United States to receive new prostheses. As he begins to heal both physically and emotionally, Roman must find a way to overcome his injuries and reclaim his place as a defender of Ukraine. This inspiring movie is a testament to the human spirit and the resilience of those who fight for what they believe in. Documentary Short / Directed by Stanislav Puzdriak / 27 minutes / 2022 / USA / San Diego Premiere
- “The Metalldetektor” – In his retirement, Georg has taken up metal detecting in the hills near his house outside Graz, Austria. Curious about a story his mother always told him about a World War II-era B17 that crashed on a neighboring hillside, he guesses at its crash site, ventures into the woods, and—much to his surprise—immediately begins exhuming engine parts. What follows is an emotional journey into the difficult history of his town... into the lives of the American Airmen who perilously parachuted into this one-time enemy territory... into locating and contacting their bewildered descendants... and ultimately into uniting the town with the families of these Airmen on the 75th anniversary of the crash. Contains archival depictions of air combat, potential loss of life, and POW processing. Viewer discretion advised. Documentary Short / Directed by Brendan Patrick Hughes / 34 minutes / 2022 / USA / West Coast Premiere
- “Mission Control” – It is David’s first day on the job as an operator in the high-stakes world of secret agent operation. Currently on medical leave from the infantry, David was destined for a boring day of training until a coworker offloads a mission on him, which David excitedly accepts. What is supposed to be a procedural experience, David’s mission becomes immediately complicated when David discovers that his agent is incapacitated in the field. Despite the desperate situation, David’s attempts to assist the agent are thwarted by the bureaucracy of Mission Control and the apathetic attitudes of his coworkers. David has to learn to work against the system he was so excited to join. Narrative Short / Directed by Timothy Ingold / 15 minutes / 2021 / USA / San Diego Premiere
- “Most Decorated Marine of All Time! Lt. General Chesty Puller” – General Lewis “Chesty” Puller shouted battlefield orders in a bellow that rattled the Halls of Montezuma. He thrived in combat until he became a legend to his troops—the toughest fighting man in the whole United States Marine Corps. When he retired in 1955 as a lieutenant general, he was the most decorated man in Marine Corps history. Documentary Short / Directed by Bruce Wittman / 16 minutes / 2022 / USA / San Diego Premiere
- “The Negative” – A struggling writer finds a fabled "Cabin of Success" in the woods, where anyone who stays there becomes everything they've ever wanted. But before his dream is realized, he comes face to face with the answer to the question: What would you sacrifice to be successful? Narrative Short / Directed by Tommy Bentz / 21 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
- “Not My Enemy” – African American choreographer Kehinde Ishangi seeks to uncover the truth about her absent father’s choices only to reveal the real enemy of the Vietnam War. “Not My Enemy” paints a picture of the traumatic and dehumanizing impact of the Vietnam War through the experiences of African American soldiers. Weaving between a fictional narrative and real-life interviews with Vietnam veterans, the documentary dance film becomes a harrowing reminder of how an aimless and violent war left indelible scars on a generation of Black men and their families. Inspired by dialogue with her father, a Vietnam veteran, Ishangi examines the nightmare of combat, the deeply psychological aftermath, and the effort to heal from these lifelong wounds. Contains descriptions of sexual violence and combat violence. Viewer discretion advised. Documentary Feature / Directed by Kehinde Ishangi / 77 minutes / 2022 / USA / San Diego Premiere
- “Police Three” – After years in the Air Force, multiple deployments, and personal loss, SSgt Bailey has finally reached the end of her rope. Before she can end it all she is interrupted by an unexpected visitor. Contains strong language and suicidal ideation. Viewer discretion advised. Narrative Short / Directed by Jimmy Lucarz / 8 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military of Veterans / West Coast Premiere
- “The Richard Stroud Story” – Meet World War II Naval Aviator Richard Stroud and follow along on a top-secret Cold War mission that ended with a carrier landing so extreme, Richard's task force Admiral told him afterward, "Son, I had already kissed you goodbye." Documentary Short / Directed by Shanon Fontaine / 10 minutes / 2022 / USA / World Premiere
- “Return to Remembrance” – A soldier searches the West for his family after the Civil War. What he finds is not what he expected. Narrative Short / Directed by John Marrs / 28 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
- “The Search” – Three days after her high school graduation, Jasmine Lovett joins the Air Force for the opportunities it offers. Initially, she thrives. But when her great-grandmother dies, everything changes. Jasmine struggles with depression and is brought back early from her first deployment. Over the next 18 months, her condition fails to improve. In and out of inpatient mental health facilities, she is assigned new duties that don’t require a weapon. She eventually concludes she will not get better in the Air Force and is a burden on her unit, so she requests a discharge. Believing her commander intends to discharge her without veterans’ benefits, Jasmine drives to a city park and takes her own life. Three years later, her family still has unanswered questions and wonders whether the military did everything they could to prevent Jasmine’s death. Contains descriptions of suicide. Viewer discretion advised. Documentary Short / Directed by Thomas Brouns / 22 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / West Coast Premiere
- “The Soldier” – When a homeless veteran receives news of his former wife dying, he embarks on a journey to reunite with his daughter while experiencing his PTSD episodes in the process. Narrative Short / Directed by Devin O’Guinn / 5 minutes / 2021 / USA / San Diego Premiere
- “Time for Change: The Kathy Bruyere Story” – A remarkable woman challenges two centuries of Navy tradition and discrimination, becoming a champion for equal opportunities to serve on-board ship and in combat -- all while rising to the rank of captain and becoming a source of strength to her family. Documentary Short / Directed by Daniel Bernardi / 13 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military of Veterans / Local Film / U.S. Premiere
- “To What Remains” – “To What Remains” is the story of Project Recover, a small team of accomplished scientists, oceanographers, archaeologists, historians, researchers, and military veterans who have dedicated their lives to scouring the depths of the ocean and the farthest corners of the earth to search for, recover, and repatriate the remains of the more than 80,000 Americans missing in action since World War II. Documentary Feature / Directed by Chris Woods / 81 minutes / 2021 / USA / San Diego Premiere
- “Touch” – In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a young woman with an autoimmune condition that makes her particularly vulnerable to disease is torn between preserving her own safety and her need for human contact. Narrative Short / Directed by Andrew Brame / 9 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / Local Film
- “Ultimate Sacrifices: CPT Jennifer Moreno” – After a stellar high school career as a top marksman and leader in the JROTC program at San Diego High School, Jennifer Moreno, a warrior, nurse, and US Army captain, became a core member of the Cultural Support Team in Afghanistan. The joint, elite female squad took part in the most dangerous combat operations in war-torn Afghanistan while providing allied forces a means to communicate with the women of that country. Those close to her remember her life and legacy from an underprivileged background, her career in the military, to her sacrifice in the line of duty. Documentary Feature / Directed by Daniel Bernardi / 59 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / Local Film
- “We Got Your Six” – Four troubled veterans embark on a unique group therapy session. Contains tense scenes related to suicide. Viewer discretion advised. Narrative Short / Directed by Danny Zanelotti / 18 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / West Coast Premiere
- “Welcome Home: Oscar’s Journey” – U.S. Army Ranger and Medic Oscar Bruno faced a gut-wrenching return to American soil from the controversial Vietnam War. Finally, 50 years later, he gets the emotional homecoming he always deserved. "Welcome Home: Oscar's Journey" documents Oscar's poignant journey from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Documentary Short / Directed by John Mogor / 13 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / World Premiere
- “Where to?” – As Kabul falls to the Taliban, Brett Chapman, an Afghanistan combat veteran turned rideshare driver, struggles to connect with his employer and passengers. Brett tries to navigate making connections on his journey, feeling isolated from his riders and government. Narrative Short / Directed by Brian Thompson / 12 minutes / 2022 / USA / Made by or Starring Military or Veterans / World Premiere