GI Film Festival San Diego Opens with POW-Themed Biographical Documentary ‘Dear Sirs’

The Opening Night film tells the story of a grandson’s journey to learn more about his grandfather’s prisoner of war experience in WWII; May 17 marks the military film festival’s first in-person screening event in two years

SAN DIEGO, CA – April 27, 2022 – The 2022 GI Film Festival San Diego opens Tuesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. with the biographical documentary feature “Dear Sirs.” All screenings will be in-person at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) in Balboa Park through May 21. Tickets for Opening Night cost $25 for general admission and $20 for military, veterans or KPBS members. All tickets can be purchased online at GIFilmFestivalSD.org.

“Dear Sirs” tells the story of a simple man, Silvio Pedri, who spends his life dutifully providing for his family without complaint. When he passes away, his grandson, film director Mark Pedri, and Mark’s wife and film producer Carrie McCarthy, discover an archive of letters, photos, and documents detailing Silvio’s time as a prisoner of war (POW) during World War II. The discovery inspired Mark and Carrie to bike over 500 miles across Europe following the original POW transportation routes to tell his grandfather’s story.

A 92-minute documentary feature, “Dear Sirs” details horrifying experiences of POWs during World War II, and shines a light on the stigma around post-traumatic stress (PTS) and military mental health. In the film Mark narrates, “I’ll never know exactly what [Silvio] went through, and I guess I’ll have to be okay with that. I was afraid to ask. I didn’t know how to ask.…So I didn’t do anything. He gave every second of his life for 60 years to his family, and I never stopped to think that maybe he needed someone – someone to talk to, someone to understand that it’s complicated.”

For seven years, the GI Film Festival San Diego has worked to bridge the military-civilian divide with each film selected telling a compelling and unique story, and challenging the notions about what it means to serve. The films selected go beyond one-dimensional depictions of veterans, service members, and their caregivers and families to give the festival-goer a peek behind the curtain at the difficulties and struggles that come along with serving one’s country.

“Dear Sirs” is the first in a lineup of 26 military-themed films that will screen during this year’s GI Film Festival San Diego. Additional film themes and plot lines this year include mental health, military sexual trauma, the untold Filipino American military experience, women in service, transitioning to civilian life, life as a military spouse, veteran suicide, and much more. A complete film lineup appears at the end of this news release.

Military film festival resumes in-person format, video on demand rentals available

All films shown at the in-person screenings will also be available as video on demand rentals (VOD), beginning the day after their festival debut through Memorial Day, May 30, 2022. This option gives festival fans who are not able to attend the screenings in person the flexibility to participate and enjoy the films wherever they choose during the rental time frame.

The online box office is open with general admission tickets and All Access Passes available for purchase. Tickets for most in-person screenings (with the exception of opening night) start at $10 each or $8 for military, veterans, and KPBS members. VOD rentals will be $10 each. Guests attending in-person screenings will be asked to observe and follow COVID-19 policies.

The history behind one of the largest military film festivals 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 200 films from all over the world, U.S., and San Diego County, and has attracted thousands of attendees from various backgrounds.

The festival has also hosted several celebrities whose films had 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 final selection. 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, 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 U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, 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.

About GI Film Festival San Diego

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 struggles, triumphs, and experiences of service members and veterans. 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 locally-connected films, which feature San Diego’s filmmakers, events, people, or places. Post-screening discussions with filmmakers, film subjects, actors, and subject-matter experts are also part of the festival.

The festival, established in 2015, is organized by KPBS in partnership with the Film Consortium San Diego.

The 2022 festival is sponsored in part by Military Times, Scatena Daniels Communications, New York Film Academy, SAG-AFTRA, Union Bank and Veterans United Home Loans of San Diego. Additional support is provided by a grant from the California Health Care Foundation.

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 KPBS

KPBS connects, reflects and serves all of our communities with trusted programming and dialogue. KPBS delivers this content to more than 1.3 million audience members weekly via multiple platforms, including television, radio, and digital media. As a public service of San Diego State University, education is a core value – from children’s programming to community discussions on important issues our region is facing, to local news coverage. KPBS provides stories that make us think, help us dream, and keep us connected. For more information, visit kpbs.org.

Film Schedule for the GI Film Festival San Diego as of April 27, 2022:

The following films (in chronological order) are confirmed for this year’s GI Film Festival San Diego. Titles are subject to change.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022 (Opening Night)

  • 7:00 P.M. PDT – “Dear Sirs” – Filmmaker Mark Pedri had never heard his grandfather Silvio’s story despite spending nearly every day together for 10 years. It wasn’t until after Silvio’s death that Mark found an archive of old photos, letters, and documents detailing Silvio’s journey as a Prisoner of War (POW) in World War II. The discovery inspired Mark to bike over 500 miles across Europe, following the original Prisoner of War transportation routes, in an effort to tell his grandfather’s story and better understand the man who helped raise him. This film contains difficult subject matter and imagery including depictions of war. Viewer discretion advised. A dessert reception follows film presentation and discussion. Documentary Feature / Directed by Mark Pedri / 92 minutes / 2021 / USA / San Diego Premiere

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

  • 5:00 P.M. PDT – “A Long March” – Three veterans trace their paths from war to erasure by the U.S. government. Winding through a seldom-told history of the Philippines, seized by the U.S. as a colony in 1899, through a 40-year stretch of lethal imperialist policies, Celestino Almeda, Rudy Panaglima and Feliciana Reyes find themselves inducted into the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII. After their service, Congress declares them, and hundreds of thousands more, to be “not on active duty.” These veterans are denied back pay, GI benefits and promised citizenship. From 1946-1948 the U.S. Army further disenfranchises these veterans by reconstructing rosters of service which also secretly refuse to recognize the service of women. Today, Celestino, Rudy and Feliciana represent the tens of thousands of elderly veterans who remain unacknowledged despite their evidence of service. As judicial solutions hit a brick wall and all eyes turn to Congress, this documentary asks the hard questions: Will America stand up for the values it claims? Will these veterans get the recognition they deserve before they are all dead? The plight of these veterans unfolds alongside interviews with family members, legal, legislative, and military advocates; archival footage; and 3D animation of rediscovered WWII art. Documentary Feature / Directed by TS Botkin / 86 minutes / 2021 / USA / Local Film / San Diego Premiere
  • 7:15 P.M. PDT – “STRANGER AT HOME: The Untold Story Of Military Mental Health” – “STRANGER AT HOME” weaves the life-altering stories of the Navy Psychologist forced into whistleblowing, the Army Ranger involved in the killing of Pat Tillman, and the Vietnam war veteran turned world-renowned trauma expert, as they work tirelessly to deliver their urgent call-to-action for radical military mental health transformation. This film contains difficult subject matter and mature themes. Viewer discretion advised. Documentary Feature / Directed by Beth Dolan and Luis Remesar / 69 minutes / 2021 / USA / Local Film / San Diego Premiere
    • Preceded by: “Stem to Stone: A Wreath’s Journey” – Each December, volunteers lay 250,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, one on every veteran’s grave. The sight is breathtaking and iconic. Wreaths Across America urges Americans to remember, honor and teach for those who have served our country and paid the ultimate price. Wreaths are placed at more than 2,500 locations in all 50 states, at sea and abroad. Many of these wreaths are made from trees that bear the name of a fallen service member. Come along for the poignant and patriotic trip, from a tree farm in Northern Maine to the U.S. capital. Witness this remarkable journey from stem to stone, through the eyes of trucker and Gold Star father J.D. Walker. Documentary Short / Directed by Brian Burdett / 6 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / World Premiere

Thursday, May 19, 2022

  • 5:00 P.M. PDT – “Walk With Frank” – A former Vietnam infantry soldier decides to celebrate his 70th birthday by walking across New York to help other survivors of PTSD and confront his own dark past. Documentary Feature / Directed by Ryan Mayers and Matt Mayers / 78 minutes / 2021 / USA / West Coast Premiere
    • Preceded by: “Colonel Jack” – Unassuming, affable and hilariously funny, Jack Jacobs does not fit the mold of a “war hero” — nor is he comfortable with the term. But on March 9, 1968, a wounded Jacobs repeatedly returned to a Vietnam battlefield to rescue 14 men while under enemy fire. The action would earn him the Medal of Honor – presented by President Richard Nixon – and inspire a memorable scene in the film “Forrest Gump.” In “Colonel Jack,” Jacobs opens up a window into his unique philosophy, speaking candidly about the attack, the enemy, the importance of humor and why he dedicated his life to the U.S. Army. Documentary Short / Directed by Eric Greenberg / 7 minutes / 2022 / USA / Student Film / World Premiere
  • 7:15 P.M. PDT – “HERE. IS. BETTER.” – A soldier’s story is always personal, but never more than in “HERE. IS. BETTER.,” a documentary film with unprecedented access inside trauma therapy sessions delivering hope to veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals featured in the film include former Presidential hopeful Jason Kander, who shocked many when he left the Kansas City mayoral race in 2018 to seek treatment; a Vietnam War veteran still haunted by events that occurred over 50 years ago; and the voices of so often overlooked female veterans, all seeking the keys to unlock their places of hurt and pain. Directed by Emmy®-winning filmmaker Jack Youngelson and produced by Emmy winners Sian Edwards-Beal and David Beal. Score composed by David Baron and Jeremiah Fraites of the GRAMMY-nominated band The Lumineers. Original songs by Josin and Kara DioGuardi. This film contains course language, scenes from combat, and mature themes of suicide, sexual assault, and violence. Viewer discretion advised. Documentary Feature / Directed by Jack Youngelson / 95 minutes / 2021 / USA / West Coast Premiere

Friday, May 20, 2022

5:00 P.M. PDT FILM BLOCK

  • “BRAKE” – In this 2D-3D hybrid animation, a man endures sensory overload from attempting to travel. He and his service animal are denied entry which sends him into a panic. His service animal works to get him back to his senses. Narrative Short / Directed by Aja Weary and Amanda Richardson / 4 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / Student Film / San Diego Premiere
  • “Shell Shocked” – After two years of unsuccessful treatment, a combat veteran suffering from “battle-induced stuttering” discovers a controversial drug banned since WWII that has the possibility to cure him. Narrative Short / Directed by Paula A Cajiao / 16 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / West Coast Premiere
  • “3:35 to Boston” – A military wife, struggling to balance all the pieces of her life, breaks down when she realizes the life she had originally planned for herself may not be possible. Narrative Short / Directed by Kay Barnes / 8 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / Student Film / San Diego Premiere
  • “American Hero” – Since the day Lt. Jordan returned home, she’s been trying to get the truth out, only to find herself struggling to overcome the pressures of the military. As her truth is revealed, Lt. Jordan has to bear with the severe backlash from the media, fellow soldiers, and the people who she loves the most, while facing the challenges presented by the institution she swore her life to. The strength and bravery of Lt. Jordan will promote healing and political change for all of those who have suffered similar traumas within the committed constraints of the military environment. These similar traumas are shared and hidden by her husband. Film contains mature themes including rape and trauma. Viewer discretion advised. Narrative Short / Directed by Manny McCord / 15 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
  • “My Happy Place” – Anna Borman’s six-year-old life in 1965 was nearly perfect. Living in Florida, having two great parents… and then an abrupt life-changing situation turned her world upside down. Divorce was on the rise in the ‘60s, but the circumstances around the Borman’s split comes with a twist. Anna and her father take a road trip across America during summer visitation and lessons of love and forgiveness are learned. This found-footage film has driving scenes from the East Coast to the West Coast and includes imagery of the many historical sights still popular today. Anna and her father finally arrive at their final destination: “Autopia” in Disneyland, Anaheim. “My Happy Place” visually touches life in the 1960s, drawing empathy and compassion for the characters. This story was inspired by a few of the producer’s true experiences. Narrative Short / Directed by Devin Scott / 18 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / Local Film / World Premiere

7:00 P.M. PDT FILM BLOCK

  • “Landing Home” – “Landing Home” is a film that takes the audience into the mind of a combat soldier and pulls back the curtain of the lasting damage war has to our veterans and their families. Returning home for men and women in uniform can represent only the beginning of a different kind of war. Luke, an army combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, decides to leave the military and come home to be with his family. He soon realizes that this is much harder than he ever imagined. Something as simple as a birthday party for his five-year-old daughter can quickly become overwhelming and trigger his post-traumatic stress. “Landing Home” is inspired by the award-nominated off-Broadway play, “The American Soldier.” The play has been performed in over 28 cities and gives voice to veterans and military families. It is based on actual letters soldiers have sent to their loved ones from the Revolution to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The script of “Landing Home” is created from a combination of exhaustive research and verbatim language lifted from countless interviews the director and producer have conducted with veterans and their family members. Narrative Feature / Directed by Douglas Taurel / 73 minutes / 2019 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
    • Preceded by: “Lives On the Line” – Kyle is an Afghanistan war veteran, suffering from chronic pain, who falls victim to a broken system while seeking treatment at the VA. At his breaking point, he meets a disillusioned VA employee who has seen what happens when the promises made to veterans are broken. This film deals with difficult topics such as suicide, which some viewers may find disturbing. It is intended for mature audiences. Viewer discretion advised. Narrative Short / Directed by Steve Stein / 20 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere

9:15 P.M. PDT FILM BLOCK

  • “Barrier” – September 1944. Two Canadian soldiers find a boy washed up on the Dutch beach. Where did he come from and can he be trusted? Narrative Short / Directed by Niels Bourgonje / 9 minutes / 2020 / Netherlands / French with English Subtitles / San Diego Premiere
  • “Blood and Glory” – Two homeless, female veterans’ friendship is tested when they confront adversity, discrimination, and even mother nature herself in their attempt to find work and survive the day. Narrative Short / Directed by Satinder Kaur / 12 minutes / 2019 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
  • “THAT NIGHT” – A haunted veteran plagued by guilt and hallucinations struggles with the murder of an innocent civilian girl. Wishing to end it all as he tries to make sense of his past and fractured reality, when a mysterious young woman changes everything. Based on the untold true story. Narrative Short / Directed by Samuel Gonzalez Jr. / 39 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
  • “RAW” – Past and present are blurred by a horrifying transgression as a female soldier faces the aftermath of a military patrol in the Middle East. “RAW” exposes military sexual trauma through the eyes of a soldier struggling to readjust to everyday life. Film contains mature themes including rape and trauma. Viewer discretion advised. Narrative Short / Directed by Drake Shannon / 10 minutes / 2020 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / Local Film
  • “We All Die Alone” – The hubris of an inept conflict negotiator leads two warring gangs into an eight-way standoff. The consequences are both comical and tragic in this whip-smart short. Narrative Short / Directed by Jonathan Hammond / 13 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / Local Film

Saturday, May 21, 2022

  • 12:00 P.M. PDT – “Nation’s Promise” – “Nation’s Promise” brings to life the true story of two patriots who, for both love of country and one another, made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War for our nation. Inspired by our nation’s commitment to returning all of her fallen sons and daughters back to their families and a grateful country, this is the true story of First Lieutenant Loren Hagen and Sergeant Al Boyers, lifelong friends, divided at time of war and brought together in the quest to find each other. Al Boyers joined an elite group of special forces tasked with carrying out harrowing missions in a clandestine division known as the Studies and Observations Group. After being stranded behind enemy lines and declared MIA, Loren Hagen joins the military to find his best friend. With never-before-seen footage, “Nation’s Promise” explores one of the most enduring legacies of two men’s commitment to one another, a family’s journey to bring them home, and a nation’s promise to honor all whom have served and made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States of America. Documentary Feature / Directed by Justin Dailey / 60 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / Local Film / World Premiere
    • Preceded by: “Blind Ambition: The Wop May Story” – Shot on 35mm filmstock with an orchestral musical score, “Blind Ambition” brings to life the story of an inspiring and courageous pilot. After learning to fly in WWI, a young Canadian man returns home to start a bold career in aviation. Barnstormer, lifesaver, and intrepid bush pilot, Wilfred ‘Wop’ May proves the value of flight to the world. But when a 15 year old injury requires catastrophic eye surgery, he is forced to admit he had done it all with only one good eye. Now grounded, Wop continues to push aviation forward by running training schools for pilots and navigators in WWII, creates the first Air Search and Rescue service, and opens the Arctic and Pacific Rim to commercial flight. However, this dedication leaves little time for family. Upon Wop’s death, his teenage son discovers how little he really knew his father when he travels to the North and hears tales of his father’s adventures, heroics, and generosity – the legacy of Wop May. Documentary Short / Directed by Frederick Krotesch and Tom Robinson / 20 minutes / 2021 / Canada / West Coast Premiere

2:15 P.M. PDT FILM BLOCK

  • “Veterans Journey Home: On Black Mountain” – At a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center in the hills north of San Francisco, California, 22 women veterans experience a four-month mindfulness meditation-based workshop to confront the demons connected to their military service: sexual harassment, rape, abuse, discrimination, career exploitation, and the lies and hypocrisy from their commanders. Documentary Short / Directed by Frederick Marx / 50 minutes / 2021 / USA / US Premiere
  • “Down on the Ranch” – A ranch owner volunteers her time, horses and professional research to determine the therapeutic impact of an eight-week equine-assisted program for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Documentary Short / Directed by Scott Campbell / 10 minutes / 2022 / USA / Local Film / San Diego Premiere
  • “The Monument of Tolerance” – Seventy-five years after the end of World War II, veterans from both the Allied and Axis forces, and survivors of the Holocaust, come together to reconcile and put tolerance into practice. These former enemies demonstrate to all people that reconciliation with one’s fellow human is attainable and the way forward for a future together. Documentary Short / Directed by Tracie Hunter and Elizabeth Suter / 30 minutes / 2021 / USA / World Premiere

4:30 P.M. PDT FILM BLOCK

  • “Into Flight Once More” – On an airstrip in Connecticut, a squadron of World War II-era DC3/C47 airplanes is forming. The distinctive, throaty roar of their massive radial engines stir up memories and challenges. Lovingly restored and flown by passionate aviators from all over the country, each plane represents an investment of money and countless hours to honor the Greatest Generation who sacrificed their lives to protect freedom worldwide. Their mission: To fly from Connecticut to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, England and finally across the English Channel to Normandy, France where, on June 6, 2019, the members of this remarkable squadron will join roughly 500,000 people from all over the globe to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. The squadron members’ backgrounds and personal motives differ, but what unites them in recreating this historic journey is their commitment to honoring the veterans that secured peace for all of us, and celebrating their return home. For many of the men and women who served in World War II, seeing the vintage airplanes again sparked memories long held deep inside. At each stop on the journey from the United States to France, we will meet veterans as they reconnect with the planes that flew, provisioned, rescued, supported and meant so much to them during wartime. “Into Flight Once More” is narrated by Gary Sinise. Documentary Feature / Directed by Adrienne Hall / 69 minutes / 2021 / USA / Made By or Starring Military or Veterans / San Diego Premiere
    • Preceded by: “Second to None” – The discovery of an interview with his deceased grandfather leads filmmaker Edmund Carson to a previously unknown part of his family history. “Second to None” is a gripping first-hand account of a U.S. infantryman in World War II who walked through fear and cheated death. Documentary Short / Directed by Ed Carson / 26 minutes / 2021 / USA

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