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Filmmakers, Active Duty Military and Veterans Honored at GI Film Festival San Diego 2019 Awards Celebration

SAN DIEGO – Oct. 1, 2019 – The GI Film Festival San Diego announced the 2019 winners at its Awards Celebration on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Parq Event Center in Downtown San Diego. More than 100 people attended the soiree hosted by comedian, TV host and former U.S. Navy Officer, Jamie Kaler, with featured entertainment by the Sol e Mar Trio. 

This year’s festival featured 34 films, 13 screenings, and countless opportunities to celebrate our military history, talent and dedication. The six-day festival brought together filmmakers, active duty service members and veterans from around the world to experience and share compelling and authentic storytelling. The awards program honored filmmaking excellence produced by international, national and local filmmakers. 

The narrative short “#3 Normandy Lane” directed by actress Brenda Strong (“Desperate Housewives,” “Starship Troopers,” “Supergirl”) was the runaway winner of the evening, earning three awards in the following national categories: Best Actress, Best Narrative Short and Best First-Time Filmmaker. “#3 Normandy Lane” was Strong’s directorial debut. 

National Award Winners

The following titles are winners in the GI Film Festival San Diego 2019’s national categories: 

Best Actor: Best performance by an actor; performer does not have to be a current military service member or veteran Frankie Muniz “The Black String” 

Best Actress: Best performance by an actress; performer does not have to be a current military service member or veteran Scottie Thompson “#3 Normandy Lane” 

Best Narrative Short: Best narrative film under 60 minutes “#3 Normandy Lane” Directed by Brenda Strong End Stop Star Entertainment 

Best Documentary Feature: Best documentary film 60 minutes or more “The Donut Dollies” Directed by Norm Anderson and Jess Hill Paloma Productions 

Best Documentary Short: Best documentary film under 60 minutes “Remains” Directed by Joe Day and Jose Rodriguez 

Best Student Film: Best film of any length or style (documentary or narrative) by a student filmmaker “A Rodeo Film” Directed by Ryan Binse 

Best First-Time Filmmaker: Best film of any length or style (documentary or narrative) by a filmmaker in their directorial debut Brenda Strong “#3 Normandy Lane” 

Best International Film: Best International Film Award goes to the highest scoring film out of our top internationally produced submissions “Entrenched” Directed by Joseph Chebatte 

Best Film Made By or Starring Veterans or Military: Best film of any length or style (documentary or narrative) that features current military and/or veterans in key roles (Producer, Director, Writer, Lead Actor/Actress) “WAR PAINT” Directed by J.C. Doler and Taylor Bracewell 

Founders Choice Award: The Founder’s Choice Award, selected by the GI Film Festival founders, goes to the best told story of their top festival picks “Homemade” Directed by Jason Maris and Danielle Bernstein Clear Films 

Local Film Showcase 2019 Award Winners The following titles are winners in the Local Film Showcase for the GI Film Festival San Diego 2019. These winners are all connected to San Diego in some way, such as the filmmaker’s place of residence/production office, film subject, shooting/editing, historic event, or other meaningful tie in. San Diego County areas of residence or neighborhood where the film was created are included if filmmakers provided this information: 

Local Film Showcase – Best Narrative Short: Best narrative film under 60 minutes 

“The Man I Want to Be” Directed by Devin Scott American Dream Cinema 

Local Film Showcase – Best Film Made By or Starring Veterans or Military: Best film of any length or style (documentary or narrative) that features current military and/or veterans in key roles (Producer, Director, Writer, Lead Actor/Actress) “This One Step” Directed by Austin & Westin Ray 

Local Film Showcase – Local Choice Award: Best film where at least 60 percent of the cast, crew and locations were sourced from San Diego County or Imperial County “Polka.” By Andrew Brame Phillip Elgie Media 

The 2020 GI Film Festival San Diego is scheduled for September 2020. For up-to-date information on the festival and to be notified of the film submission process for 2020, visit

About GI Film Festival San Diego The festival is organized by KPBS in partnership with the Film Consortium San Diego and the GI Film Group. Official sponsors of the 2019 GI Film Festival San Diego include: Kaminskiy Design & Remodeling, The Super Dentists, BAE Systems, Family Fare, SAG-AFTRA, and AT&T. Additional support is provided by Scatena Daniels Communications and San Diego Magazine. The GI Film Festival San Diego is a proud 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. 

About GI Film Group The GI Film Group is a full service media company dedicated to preserving the stories of military veterans. GIFG is the production entity behind the award-winning GI Film Festival (GIFF), a 501c(3), also known as “Sundance for the Troops,” which was established in 2006 in Washington, DC. The festival is the first in the nation to exclusively celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the service member through the medium of film. 

About KPBS KPBS serves San Diego and Imperial counties with trusted news and programs that tell the stories of our time. KPBS delivers this content to more than one million audience members weekly via multiple outlets, including television, radio, and digital media. As a public service of San Diego State University, education is a core value – from our children’s programming to our local news coverage. KPBS provides stories that make us think, help us dream, and keep us connected. For more information, visit 

Film Selections for the 2019 GI Film Festival San Diego as of Sept. 12, 2019: The following films (in alphabetical order) screened at this year’s GI Film Festival San Diego at either the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park or UltraStar Cinemas at Hazard Center. 

  • “#3 Normandy Lane” – Army wife and young mother Sarah Winston’s life is inextricably altered when a series of visitors arrive on her doorstep. Narrative Short / Dir. Brenda Strong / 2019 / 21 minutes 


  • “XVII Carvings” – A Marine Corps veteran, Anthony Marquez, is on a quest to create a memorial for the 17 fellow Marines that his unit lost in Afghanistan. Anthony is doing this by carving with chainsaws a “Battlefield Cross” for every Gold Star family affected by that loss. He then hand delivers the carvings to the families. To some, this may just be folk art…to Anthony it’s his new mission in life, to honor the fallen. Documentary Short / Dirs Manny Marquez and Jesse Larvick / 2017 / 5 minutes / World Premiere 


  • “THE BLACK STRING” – After a lonely convenience store clerk goes on a blind date with a mysterious woman, his world begins to unravel in horrifying fashion. Plagued by illness and nightmarish visions, the clerk desperately searches the suburbs for this mysterious woman. His friends and family believe he’s losing his mind, but he believes he’s the target of something far more sinister. Narrative Feature / Dir. Brian Hanson / 2018 / 92 minutes / San Diego Premiere / Rated R 


  • Breaking Point” – A mother and daughter confront each other about the sudden death of a loved one. Narrative Short / Dirs Coren Benson and Kasey Weldon / 2019 / 6 minutes / World Premiere 


  • Deviant” – In the early sixties, a sexually conflicted teenager finds faith and acceptance after escaping the tortures of electrotherapeutic conversion therapy. DISCLAIMER: This film contains graphic sex-related scenes that some viewers may find disturbing or uncomfortable. Narrative Short / Local Film / Dir. Benjamin Howard / 2018 / 10 minutes 


  • The Donut Dollies” – In 1968, two best friends joined an elite team and flew into a war zone wearing powder blue dresses. They were Red Cross Donut Dollies. These idealistic young women embraced their mission — to cheer up the GIs in Vietnam — with energy, creativity, compassion, and resolve but had no idea what they were getting into. Forty-seven years later, they reunite in Vietnam to retrace their steps; ask why they went; ask whether they made a difference; unlock buried memories; and share their stories for the first time. Documentary Feature / Dir. Norm Anderson / 2018 / 85 minutes / San Diego Premiere 


  • Entrenched” – When four Australian soldiers capture a young Afghani boy spying on their position, tensions rise among them as they decide whether he’s helping the Taliban or simply playing. Narrative Short / Dir. Joey Chebatte / 2018 / 14 minutes / San Diego Premiere 


  • Escape by Sea” – Two Scandinavian soldiers flee the French Foreign Legion by jumping ship in the Strait of Malacca. Their escape will stretch the limits of human survival when sea current sweeps them to open ocean for weeks, without food or water. Based on true events. Narrative Short / Dir. Eero Heinonen / 2019 / 14 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • FINDING SATAN” – Bonded in valor but separated by war’s chaos, a retired soldier must find his military dog, Satan, in order to find himself again. He searched relentlessly to find his brother-in-arms, his battle buddy, and his friend. From hot deserts to dark caves, they served side-by-side each day, saving lives in war. But when a final bomb blast sent Sgt. Ryan Henderson home from Afghanistan, he was separated from his loyal military bomb detection dog Satan, and would not see him again for years. FINDING SATAN relays a story of an unbreakable bond between soldiers — one human, one canine — forged in the heat of battle and remaining forever; and shows the power of healing that comes when two American war heroes are finally reunited. The courage of these canine soldiers who protect us, serve us, and save us is undeniable. In return, from a grateful nation, they deserve the same from us. Documentary Short / Dir. Jondaniel Cornett / 2018 / 14 minutes / San Diego Premiere 


  • Homemade” – Groundbreaking, intimate, and durational – HOMEMADE is the six-year journey following combat wounded and highly decorated Force Reconnaissance Marine Adam Sorensen as he navigates life after the war. Exposing the effects of Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, and addiction on Adam’s marriage, family, and work, Homemade is a story of survival and resilience. The film bears witness to the often traumatic transition from active duty service to civilian life, begging a broader question about our cultural markers of success and igniting a crucial conversation about caring for our returning veterans and their families. Documentary Feature / Dirs Jason Maris and Danielle Bernstein / 2018 / 82 minutes / World Premiere 


  • The Invalid Corps” – In July 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early launches a surprise raid that takes him to the very gates of Washington DC. The city is in panic. Almost every able-bodied soldier from the Union has already been sent south for the siege of Petersburg, more than 100 miles away. The only defenders remaining are clerks, government officials, and the Invalid Corps. Made up of men injured in battle or by disease, these “hopeless cripples” must hold out for a desperate 24 hours until Union General Grant can send reinforcements. With Lincoln himself on the ramparts, they cannot afford to fail. Documentary Short / Dir. Day Al-Mohamed / 2018 / 28 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • ISLAND SOLDIER” – ISLAND SOLDIER interweaves the personal stories of Micronesian soldiers serving in the U.S. military, following their journey from the most remote islands in the Pacific to the front lines of the war in Afghanistan, and back again. These non-U.S. citizens are fighting in America’s wars – yet they serve, and die, at five times the rate per capita of their American comrades. Through the odyssey of the Nena family of the tiny island of Kosrae, the film humanizes the repercussions of America’s foreign wars, and the changing fabric of a small island nation caught in the tides of international politics, teetering on the brink of economic collapse. Documentary Feature / Dir. Nathan Fitch / 2017 / 85 minutes


  • “Last Taxi Dance” – In a ballroom called Paradise, in the aftermath of World War II, a proud Hawaiian singer dances with a returned U.S. soldier and debates the dignity of the American dream. But when his dance tickets run out, she is left with a harsh choice – for when the dancing stops, this man will die. Narrative Short / Dir. Brayden Yoder / 2018 / 18 minutes / San Diego Premiere 


  • The Man I Want to Be” – “The Man I Want to Be” tells the story of a boy (Billy Nichols) growing up in the ’70s and being different. He’s gay. His father, Lieutenant Colonel Nichols, is one of the most decorated fighter pilots of the Vietnam conflict and a strict, masculine role model. This very personal story of fear and bravery shines a light on what it means to be a man. Narrative Short / Local Film / Dir. Devin Scott / 13 minutes / World Premiere 


  • Mosul” – The gritty, thrilling story of local militias and uneasy allies who banded together to liberate Iraq’s second-largest city of 1.3 million people from ISIS in 2017. Documentary Feature / Dir. Daniel Gabriel / 2019 / 86 minutes / San Diego Premiere 


  • Ocean Station November” – While patrolling an area of the Pacific Ocean designated “Ocean Station November,” the daily routine for the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Pontchartrain included launching weather balloons and conducting lifeboat drills. But in the early morning hours of October 16, 1956, the Coast Guardsmen prepared for the possibility of a mid-sea rescue when they received a distress call from a trans-oceanic airliner with multiple engine failures. Documentary Short / Dir. Damon Stuebner / 2019 / 12 minutes / San Diego Premiere 


  • Others May Live: American Patriot” – Vietnam veteran Bobby Shelton recounts his time in service and reflects on the bond he shared with his best friend, and how their experiences changed his life. This film is first in what is intended to be a series of “American Patriot” mini-docs focused on sharing the stories of and bringing attention to veteran’s issues. Documentary Short / Dir. Matthew Black / 2019 / 15 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • “Polka.” – Near his campsite under a bridge, Kenny makes a discovery that changes his lonely existence and must work to create a space in the world for his new life. Narrative Short / Local Film / Dir. Andrew Brame / 2019 / 9 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • The Real Thing” – A soldier returns home to meet his daughter, who transitioned while he was on tour. Narrative Short / Dir. Brandon Kelley / 2018 / 7 minutes / San Diego Premiere  


  • REDDOG” – REDDOG is a film based on true events of a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan while on patrol with his platoon. During the long hours of walking in the desert, the Marine becomes fatigued and unknowingly takes an unlucky step. While he waits for help to arrive, he goes through a series of flashbacks that give him hope for his chance of survival. Narrative Short / Dir. Will Whitney / 2019 / 11 minutes / San Diego Premiere 


  • “Remains” – In the depths of a Vietnamese jungle, a team of archaeologists and U.S. service members search for the body of a U.S. soldier missing since the Vietnam War. Documentary Short / Dirs Jose Rodriguez and Joe Day / 2019 / 39 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • A Rodeo Film” – A bull rider who falls out of love with the sport must choose between his family’s legacy of rodeo and his own aspirations of life. Narrative Short / Dir. Darius Dawson / 2019 / 18 minutes 


  • SCRAMBLE THE SEAWOLVES” – A ragtag team from meager beginnings becomes the most decorated squadron in Naval Aviation history and of the Vietnam War. Documentary Feature / Local Film / Dir. Jeff Arballo / 2018 / 107 minutes 


  • A Serving Story” – Made by two Rancho Bernardo High School students, this documentary short shines a light on the experiences of two military families. Documentary Short / Local Film / Dirs Mackenzie Bivin and Zach Camerino / 2019 / 3 minutes / World Premiere 


  • A Soldier’s Way” – A Soldier’s Way follows the story of soldiers Steven Barr (Tim Llewellyn) and Chris Villanueva (Grey Acuna) during a tour in Afghanistan, simultaneously exploring their lives and commitments stateside. Steven Barr is the modern soldier, from his physique to his adrenaline addiction, with a wife Andrea (Molly May Rockwell) and child (Kohen Marburger) wishing they had more of his focus between multiple tours of duty. Chris Villanueva is a combat photographer assigned to Barr’s company during a routine tour in the country, who has a healthier relationship to his pregnant wife, Lacey (Bonnie Gayle), and combat career. The film explores the connection between these two soldiers and their families back home, blurring the line between here and now, much like a dream, as both worlds face a deteriorating reality. Narrative Short / Dirs Adam Dietrich and Elliott Gilbert / 2018 / 13 minutes / World Premiere 


  • Sunken Roads: Three Generations After D-Day” – A young woman joins a group of D-Day veterans on a pilgrimage to retrace their route from World War II. “Sunken Roads” follows their journey, painting an intimate portrait of these soldiers during their final return to Normandy. The film is a story of intergenerational friendship, offering a new perspective on D-Day by presenting the memories of 90-year-old men through the eyes of a 20-year-old woman. Documentary Feature / Dir. Charlotte Juergens / 2019 / 90 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • Take Me Home Huey” – “Take Me Home Huey” documents contemporary artist Steve Maloney’s transformation of a wounded warbird into a colorful sculpture. As the battered helicopter becomes whole, stories of Vietnam veterans and their families parallel the healing journey of Huey #174, and viewers begin to understand what veterans must face finding relief from trauma sustained during the war. When the surviving crew of #174 is finally reunited with their helicopter, the Huey is no longer a combat gunship or air ambulance but has taken on a new life as an ambassador of healing, encouraging dialogue between surviving soldiers and their families working to heal old war wounds. Documentary Short / Local Film / Dirs Alicia Brauns and Christine Steele / 2017 / 56 minutes 


  • Team River Runner: Beyond Paddling” – This documentary film is about Team River Runner, a national volunteer program helping wounded and disabled war veterans heal through whitewater paddling sports. The film tells the story of a group of wounded Raleigh veterans who found healing in the rivers of North Carolina, and in the support of fellow veterans and volunteer whitewater paddlers who are grateful for their service. Documentary Short / Dirs Takayuki Yamato and Kirk Hewitt / 2018 / 30 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • That’s Mine” – Roni is a battalion commander in the armored corps of the Israeli IDF, undergoing a dilemma about his career in the shadow of a fragile marriage. Narrative Short / Dir Amit Hay Ben Shlomo / 2018 / 34 minutes / International Premiere 


  • This One Step” – A young Texan veteran and his wife must re-learn the rhythm of their relationship, complicated by lingering PTSD. Narrative Short / Local Film / Dirs The RAY SISTERS / 2018 / 5 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • Under the Needle” – A short documentary about the therapeutic effects of tattooing and PTSD. Documentary Short / Dir. Lee Robinson / 2019 / 7 minutes / World Premiere 


  • Vietnam Aftermath” – The horrors of war never die. The story emerging is not one on the War itself, but on the horrors these men and women now face at home. Their story is of the war after the war: rejection, disenchantment, death, nightmares, and resiliency. More than 40 years have passed since the official end of the Vietnam War. For years, many veterans of this war refused to talk about their experience. As many begin to die out, four Vets that belong to the New Jersey Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial have decided to share their stories for the first time. Documentary Short / Dir. Tom Phillips / 2019 / 30 minutes / San Diego Premiere 


  • War Paint” – A soldier fights through the heat and hell of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. Narrative Short / Dirs J.C. Doler and Taylor Bracewell / 2018 / 11 minutes / West Coast Premiere 


  • The Whistleblower of My Lai” – This artful, resonant documentary counterpoints the story of one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. military history with the production of a radical new opera about the helicopter pilot who broke the story of the notorious My Lai massacre. Documentary Feature / Dir. Connie Field / 2018 / 65 minutes / San Diego Premiere