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GI Film Festival San Diego Opens with a Trio of Local Documentaries, Spotlights the Service and Sacrifice of Two Female Veterans

San Diego’s military film festival will open with three documentaries with local ties, including filming locations, residents, veteran filmmakers, and more.

SAN DIEGO, CA – March 29, 2023 – 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. The festival’s highly anticipated 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


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.

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 If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor of the GI Film Festival San Diego, contact

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 festival is organized by KPBS in partnership with the Film Consortium San Diego.

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. 

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