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GI Film Festival San Diego Sets Full Schedule, Adds Films

SAN DIEGO, CA – Aug. 11, 2016 – Organizers of the GI Film Festival San Diego, presented by Sullivan Solar Power, have finalized the full 2016 schedule for the screenings, receptions, and related events. To be held Wednesday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, the festival features 28 films for, about, and by service men and women and brings the stories of America’s military to life through film.


Film screenings and related events will be presented at various locations throughout San Diego County. The films come from around the United States as well as here in San Diego and range from feature length films to shorts, which gives the audience an opportunity to view a variety of stories in a short amount of time. They are presented within themed blocks so audience members can fully immerse themselves in the festival experience.


In 2016, several of the films focus on less known true stories that will satisfy just about any film aficionado’s appetite for a good story. Storylines include American POWs in Switzerland and Hiroshima, secret recordings by President John F. Kennedy, a young man forced to be in the German Army in WWII and ends up working for the United States, and the sneak preview of the full-length Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky III’s documentary about an American minister and his wife who travel abroad to save victims of the Holocaust.


Another theme explored in this year’s festival is moral injury, which is the result of the participation in traumatic experiences that violate ones moral and ethical values, causing a shift in identity and self-expectations. “Thank You For Your Service,” directed by award-winning filmmaker Tom Donahue, is a film that examines how mental health advocates team up with soldiers to bring awareness to their struggles in a social and political way.


Due to overwhelming popularity, the GI Film Festival San Diego’s Family Movie Night returns to the schedule on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. The film (title TBD) will have three different screening times, allowing more parents and families to enjoy a night out to celebrate our troops at UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center.


Out of the 28 films selected at GI Film Festival San Diego, 16 were presented at the GI Film Festival held in Washington DC in May 2016, including several “Best of Fest” winners. An animated short, “Tom’s War,” enjoys its world premiere at the festival, while another nine films will be presented on the West Coast for the very first time. Another nine films were selected for the Local Film Showcase. Featuring a variety of stories, these selections will be presented over the course of the festival with a majority of these local films shown on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 at UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center.


“USS Indianapolis: The Legacy,” a film directed and produced by local filmmakers Sara Vladic and Melanie Capacia Johnson, will open the GI Film Festival San Diego on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. An encore screening of the film will be shown on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 at 3:30 p.m. at the UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center.


“The local films have their own themes,” says founder of Film Consortium San Diego and curator of the festival’s Local Film Showcase, “‘Love is No News’ is a love story that has nothing to do with the military, but was created by a local military veteran. The GI Film Festival San Diego gives filmmakers an opportunity to connect with and see the work of other filmmakers, and it gives the public an opportunity to support local filmmakers.”


Throughout the five-day festival, attendees will be able to vote for their favorite films to receive the “Audience Choice Award” at the Closing Celebration and Awards Ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Mission Valley at Hazard Center. Many of the events will be open to the public with special discounted opportunities for active duty military personnel and veterans. All Access Passes for entry into festival events and screenings are available now for $85 each on the GI Film Festival San Diego website at General admission tickets for select screenings and events are also on sale.


The GI Film Festival San Diego presented by Sullivan Solar Power takes place Sept. 14-18, 2016. Additional festival sponsors are National City Mile of Cars and Scatena Daniels Communications with support provided by a grant from The Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation. The festival is organized by KPBS in partnership with the GI Film Group and the Film Consortium San Diego.


A complete screening and event schedule follows. Schedule is subject to change.


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 is held each May 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 Film Consortium San Diego

The Film Consortium San Diego LLC 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 holds the Fall Film Festival, San Diego Film Awards, Winter Film Showcase, Summer at the Drive-in and various other screening and networking events.


About KPBS

KPBS is a public service of San Diego State University, serving over one million audience members weekly across TV, radio (89.5 FM and 97.7 FM Calexico), and the web with content that is educational as well as entertaining—and free of commercial interruption.





Please note that times and locations are subject to change. Please check for event updates throughout the summer.


Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016

7 p.m.

Opening Night Screening and Reception

Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park

Featuring the 2016 documentary, “USS Indianapolis: The Legacy.” Filmmaker Q&A and a reception will follow the film screening. This thrilling retelling of the fate of the World War II heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis exclusively uses first-person accounts from 107 survivors of the devastating torpedo attack. The film took 10 years to produce. Local filmmakers, Sara Vladic and Melanie Capacia Johnson, will attend the opening event. The film made its debut at the GI Film Festival in DC earlier this year, and now makes its West Coast Premiere at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Best of Fest, GI Film Festival 2016: Best Female Director – Sara Vladic / West Coast Premiere / Dir. Sara Vladic / 2016 / 98 minutes


Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016

Screenings begin at 6 p.m.

The Village Theatres in Coronado

Filmmaker Q&A and panel discussions will follow select screenings.

  • 6 p.m.: “The Unimaginable Journey of Peter Ertel” – Peter Ertel was considered “like family” by his Jewish employers by the end of World War II, but he had a remarkable past as a German soldier for five years at the beginning of the war. In the first-person narrative documentary “The Unimaginable Journey of Peter Ertel,” the man speaks of his experience in a hatred, destruction-driven time. The film features rare archival footage – previously unreleased– as the audience learns from this former agent for the U.S. State Department. Best of Fest, GI Film Festival 2016: Founders’ Choice Award / West Coast Premiere / Dir. Joseph Cahn / 2016 / One hour and 44 minutes
  • 6:30 p.m.: “Almost Sunrise” – This film follows two Iraq veterans, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson, both tormented by depression for years after they returned home and pushed to the edge of suicide. The two embark on an extraordinary journey — a 2,700 mile walk across the country from Wisconsin to California, in order to reflect on their haunting experiences of war and to ultimately, save themselves. Will this epic pilgrimage allow them to begin the new life they so desperately seek? Dir. Michael Collins / 2016 / 99 minutes
  • 7 p.m.: Multiple films featured
    • “Escape from Firebase Kate” – During the implementation of Nixon’s plan to end the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, 26 U.S. troops are caught in the transition. Unsupported by the South Vietnamese, the men are abandoned on a tiny outpost where they are surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese troops. After surviving a brutal three-day siege, they lead a daring middle-of-the-night escape through the jungle and evade enemy troops. “Escape from Firebase Kate” is their story, told by the men who survived in their own words. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / West Coast Premiere / Dir. Paul Kakert / 2015 / 61 minutes
    • “Tom’s War” – Tom Geerdes served as an Army medic in the 11th Armored Calvary in Vietnam and Cambodia. Like many veterans, he returned home a changed man. At StoryCorps, Tom shared his long journey toward healing with his daughter, Hannah Campbell. This animated short features the audio from their recording. Dir. Julie Zammarchi / 2016 / Two minutes
    • “Return to Dak To” This film is about the previously untold story that occurred at the end of the Vietnam War. Six hundred American soldiers in the 299th Engineer Battalion ordered by President Nixon fought during the 61-day siege, and half were killed. The other 300 men returned to the United States with no therapy, expected to assimilate back into civilian life. Forty years later, five men who are still haunted decide to return back to Dak To, to further explain their feelings to themselves and each other. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / Dir. Christopher Upham / 2015 / 50 minutes


Friday, Sept. 16, 2016

Family Movie Night

Screenings at 6:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m., and 7 p.m.

UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center

Film to be determined. Bring the kids and enjoy a special night of movie magic!


Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016

Screenings begin at 12:30 p.m.

UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center

Filmmaker Q&A and panel discussions will follow select screenings.

  • 12:30 p.m.: “WWII POW Stories” Film Block (Multiple Films featured)
    • “Paper Lanterns” – In the summer of 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. On the morning of the bombing a young Japanese boy, Shigeaki Mori, would witness the explosion. He would survive that day and go on to document the bombing and honor the thousands that were lost, including the 12 American POWs. Mori’s efforts provided closure and solace for the families of those fallen soldiers. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / Dir. Barry Frechette / West Coast Premiere / 2016 / 60 minutes
    • “Forced Landing” – During the Second World War, more than 100,000 foreign soldiers were interned in Switzerland. French, Polish, English, Russian, Italian, and German soldiers who fled combat found a safe haven in neutral Switzerland. Those who escaped were sent to a detention camp in Wauwilermoos near Lucerne where they would undergo harsh conditions and treatment. In April 2014, eight survivors of this camp received the Prisoner of War Medal, marking the first time this medal has been granted to soldiers that were held prisoners in a friendly country. Best of Fest, GI Film Festival 2016: Best Documentary Short / West Coast Premiere / Dir. Daniel Wyss / 2015 / 55 minutes
  • 1 p.m.: “Salute to the Navy” Film Block (Multiple films featured)
    • “Frogman” – Patrick only knew his father through the life stories he would tell – stories of covert operations as a frogman and Navy SEAL in Vietnam. With each story told, Patrick felt he gained not only a piece of his father but a piece of history. “Frogman” delves into the sacrifices and burdens of a family where keeping secrets became part of the job, and explores just how much we can know someone through the stories we inherit. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / Dir. Tyler Trumbo / 2016 / 16 minutes
    • “Farewell to Connie” – A documentary that explores the history of the carrier USS Constellation, which was stationed in San Diego for more than 40 years, as told by U.S. Navy veterans who served on the ship. The “Connie” was so big it became part of the city’s skyline and was a touchstone for the Navy. More than 100,000 people served on the ship, which participated in everything from the Vietnam War to Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf. Part of the filming was done in Bremerton, Washington, where the Connie spent her decommissioned years. She was later towed to Texas and dismantled. The documentary was made for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Dirs. Cody Long and Gary Robbins / 2015 / 22 minutes
    • “Heroes on Deck: World War II on Lake Michigan” – During World War II, just off Chicago’s shoreline, the U.S. Navy trained over 15,000 carrier pilots on two makeshift “flattops,” both former, coal-fired, side wheel passenger steamers. Not every pilot landed successfully on the pitching decks of the USS Wolverine and USS Sable; many aircrafts went to the lake’s bottom. This is the story of the recovery of those rare warbirds and the ingenious training program that changed the course of the war in the Pacific. Best of Fest, GI Film Festival 2016: American Heroes Channel Award / Dir. John Davies / 2016 / 57 minutes
  • 3:30 p.m.: “How We Heal” Film Block (Multiple films featured)
    • “Tourist” – This film follows an aging veteran’s return to Vietnam after 45 years. After a unique experience in the war as a U.S. military advisor, the film’s subject provides a largely unknown perspective on an increasingly forgotten war, exploring themes of guilt, healing, and the painful ironies of war. The short film was shot over a 10-day period in Vietnam. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / West Coast Premiere / Dir. Jared Jakins / 2016 / 17 minutes
    • “Living for the Ones Who Can’t” – This film is a tribute to two fallen U.S. Army Rangers that lost their lives on a mission in Iraq that went tragically wrong. Narrated by Article 15’s own Mat Best and Vincent Vargas, the story focuses on the teachings and mentorship of their former team leaders, SSG Ricardo Barraza and SGT Dale Brehm. This story is a testament to the ones that have led and mentored us in our lives, and how those individuals helped shaped us into the people we are today. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / West Coast Premiere / Dir. AJ Miller / 2016 / 13 minutes
    • “The Last Time I Heard True Silence” – Upon returning from Iraq, Noah struggles to transition back into civilian life. His attempts to reintegrate are repeatedly thwarted by problems he never faced before. After losing more friends to suicide than war, he finds himself hitting rock bottom so he starts running and he never stops. Now a father and husband, Noah enters a 50-mile wilderness race, pushing his mind and his body to their limits. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / Dir. Tim O’Donnell / 2015 / 22 minutes
    • “Operation Allie” – Anthony Marquez, a former Marine and military dog handler, has returned from Afghanistan. He lost 17 friends in the war and has been suffering from the effects of PTSD. When he finds out that the dog that he went through the war with is being retired from the Marine Corps, he sets out to adopt her. This is the story of his journey to be reunited with his best friend and the comfort they can provide for each other. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / West Coast Premiere / Dir. Manny Marquez / 2015 / Eight minutes
    • “Adventurmentalism” – Directed by an independent documentary filmmaker and former member of the U.S. Army, “Adventurmentalism,” is an interpersonal depiction of nature’s positive influence on mental health in combat veterans and suicide survivors struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / Dir. Luke Holton / 2015 / 35 minutes
  • 4 p.m.: “Facing Crisis” Film Block (Multiple films featured)
    • “The Year of the Tiger – JFK 1962” – During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy has to decide whether to put millions of Americans at risk and assist millions of people trapped 110 miles behind the Iron Curtain. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / West Coast Premiere / Dir. Joe Looby / 2016 / 33 minutes
    • “American Umpire” – Of all military personnel around the world who are stationed outside their home countries, 95 percent are American citizens. Their job is difficult, unpredictable, and often thankless. The statistics have been this way since the last half of the 20th century. “American Umpire” explores how the U.S. took on this role in the first place, interviewing different field experts on its toll on the economy and foreign defense. The film opens up a national discussion about the foreign policy of the United States in an important election year to potentially redefine our national vision. Local Film Showcase / Dir. James Shelley / 2016 / 57 minutes
  • 6 p.m.: “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War” – In this film by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky III, church minister Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha embarked on a two-year endeavor to rescue Jews and other refugees from the Nazis in Europe during World War II. Their selfless efforts spanning over the course of two years are told through their journal writings in the film “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War.” The film airs nationally on PBS on Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. central). There will be a panel discussion following the San Diego screening. Dirs. Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky III / 2016 / 90 minutes
  • 7:30 p.m. “Thank You for Your Service” – This film takes a hard look at our understanding of war trauma and the policies that result. The film’s director, Tom Donahue, interweaves the stories of four struggling Iraq War veterans through candid interviews with top military and civilian leaders. The film argues for significant change and offers a roadmap of hope. Best of Fest, GI Film Festival 2016: Best Documentary Feature / Dir. Tom Donahue / 2015 / One hour and 41 minutes


Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016

Local Film Showcase

Screenings & Events begin at 1 p.m.

UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center

Filmmaker Q&A and panel discussions will follow select screenings.

  • 1 p.m.: Local Film Showcase (Multiple films by local filmmakers featured)
    • “Honor Flight: The Ride of a Lifetime” – Follow 42 WWII and Korean War Veterans on their emotional journey to Washington DC to view the memorials to their service and sacrifice. Created by local U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Travis Weger from San Diego, CA. Weger is an alumnus of the University of San Diego and founding president of the USD Student Veteran Organization. Local Film Showcase / Dir. Travis Weger / 2014 / 13 minutes
    • “The Flying Greek” – Steve Pisanos, a slender boy always with a “No Fear” look etched onto his face, grows up in Greece in 1932. While walking to school, he comes across a gypsy who lures him into having his palm read. Steve’s fortune befuddles him but when a bi-plane fighter from the Greek Air Force flies directly overhead, the experience becomes life changing and sets his destiny in motion. Fast forward to England in 1943 where Steve is now a fighter ace having achieved five aerial victories over the skies of war torn Europe. He finds himself not only fulfilling what the gypsy prophesied, but grappling to stay alive while achieving a passion he had no idea could be so lethal. Local Film Showcase / Dir. Mark Vizcarra / 2016 / 12 minutes
    • “Living History: Our Hometown Hero” – Robert Noble, Ret. U.S. Navy Commander, shares his 31 year career as a Naval Officer and Naval Aviator with a group of middle school students in Vista, CA. He shares his insights into the importance of education and his love for family and country. Bob was born and raised in San Diego, CA. This film, produced by video journalism students at Rancho Minerva Middle School in Vista, received Grand Recognition at the San Diego iVIE Film Festival in 2016 and also won Best in Class and Best in Show at the San Diego County Fair. Local Film Showcase / Dirs. Jose Roman, Guadalupe Biancas, Victoria Stauffer, Bryson Newsom, Janet Valdovinos, Damaris Robles / 2016 / Five minutes
    • “The Light Once Captured” – A young man is looking at some old film cameras at a garage sale. He thinks the camera that has seen war sounds cool, until he gets a glimpse at the past. Local Film Showcase / Dir. Ryan Kelly / 2013 / Six minutes
    • “A Return to the End” – A small group of U.S. Marines return to Vietnam 40 years after their dramatic exit from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Set against the backdrop of Vietnam’s 40th anniversary of the country’s reunification, this story highlights the remnants of war and the efforts made to remember those who did not return. Local Film Showcase / Dir. Pat Clark / 2015 / 56 minutes
  • 2:30 p.m.: Permission to Speak Freely: KPBS’ Veterans Coming Home ProjectThis special event features a screening of five digital first pieces from the Veterans Coming Home Project. Veterans Coming Home is an innovative cross platform public media campaign that bridges America’s military-civilian divide through storytelling and public engagement. The screening is followed by a lively discussion with actors and writers from the local veteran community.
  • 3:30 p.m.: Encore screening of “USS Indianapolis: The Legacy” This thrilling retelling of the fate of the World War II heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis exclusively uses first-person accounts from 107 survivors of the devastating torpedo attack. The film took 10 years to produce. Local filmmakers Sara Vladic and Melanie Capacia Johnson, will attend the screening and participate in a Q&A session with attendees. The film made its debut at the GI Film Festival in DC earlier this year, earning Vladic the Best Female Director title at the DC awards ceremony. The film now makes its West Coast Premiere at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Best of Fest, GI Film Festival 2016: Best Female Director – Sara Vladic / West Coast Premiere / Dir. Sara Vladic / 2016 / 98 minutes
  • 4 p.m.: Military Pitch Fest and Mixer featuring “American Girl” and “Love is No News”

Do you want to get involved in exciting military themed independent film productions happening here in San Diego? Are you an active duty or veteran filmmaker who wants to work with others on local productions?  Are you in the filmmaking industry or have a film project you need help with? Come to the GI Film Festival San Diego’s “Military Pitch Fest and Mixer” to connect with fellow filmmakers, writers, and professionals. This event aims to support and promote San Diego’s military independent filmmaking community through the sharing of information and expertise, as well as developing resources that will be available to local military independent filmmakers. The “Military Pitch Fest and Mixer” is open to all who participate in the filmmaking process as well as active duty and veterans.


“Military Pitch Fest and Mixer” will also include screenings of the following shorts:

  • “American Girl” – When U.S. Army soldier Julie Morales is hit by a sniper in Afghanistan, she fights to stay alive by clinging to childhood memories of her dangerous journey from Guatemala to the United States via Mexico. Official Selection – GI Film Festival 2016 in DC / Dir. Rebecca Murga / 2016 / 14 minutes
  • “Love is No News” – The story of a man who owns a newspaper stand in the middle of a downtown city business district. Among the patrons is a stunning woman who he would never fathom to notice him, much-less have a romantic interest. But she is indeed drawn to his quirky charm. Local Film Showcase / Dir. David O’Leary / 2013 / Eight minutes

Tickets to attend the “Military Pitch Fest and Mixer” are $10 per person. Tickets to attend both “Military Pitch Fest and Mixer” and the Closing Celebration and Awards Ceremony are $25 per person.


Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016

6 p.m.

Closing Celebration and Awards Ceremony

DoubleTree by Hilton San Diego Mission Valley at Hazard Center

Join us for the exciting culmination of the festival! Filmmakers featured in the Local Film Showcase will receive awards in multiple categories. An Audience Choice Award will also be announced, giving audiences an opportunity to vote throughout the festival for their favorite film.