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GI Film Festival San Diego Unveils 2023 Award Nominees

May 20 Awards Celebration will honor nominees and winners across 13 categories,
storied military veteran and comedian Thom Tran returns as event host

SAN DIEGO, CA – April 18, 2023 – Organizers of the GI Film Festival San Diego unveiled this year’s award nominees to be recognized across 13 diverse categories at the festival’s culminating Awards Celebration on Saturday, May 20 starting at 7 p.m. at KPBS’ newly renovated building The Conrad Prebys Media Complex at Copley Center. The Awards Celebration—which features a hosted pre-reception, awards presentation and post-presentation mix and mingle over dessert for registered attendees—will mark the conclusion of the six-day military-themed film festival.

The GI Film Festival San Diego award nominees were selected from a lineup of 31 inspiring films for, by and about the military that will be screened at this year’s event from May 15-19 at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) in Balboa Park. Of the films, actors and directors nominated this year for groundbreaking work, several have local ties, including San Diego filmmakers, talent and filming locations. A complete list of the 2023 award nominees can be found below.

Returning as the event host is Army combat veteran turned stand-up comedian Thom Tran. Following a combat injury that ended his military career, Tran founded “The GIs of Comedy Tour,” a comedy troupe composed of fellow troops. They have since traveled the world, performing for both military and civilian audiences, using the power of laughter to bring healing and joy to those who need it most. Tran’s unique blend of humor and military experience makes him an ideal host for the GI Film Festival San Diego Awards Celebration.

The Awards Celebration is open to the public and registration is required. Tickets to the Awards Celebration are $40 for general admission or $35 for military, veterans and KPBS members. For those interested in attending multiple screenings and the festival Awards Celebration, Multi-Ticket Packs are available for $125. Multi-Ticket Packs include admission to any and all of the 11 screenings and events, including Opening Night and the Awards Celebration. Individual tickets to most screenings start at $10 each or $8 for military, veterans, and KPBS members. Each film screening is followed by a panel discussion featuring filmmakers, film subjects, actors, and/or subject matter experts. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

“We look forward to celebrating and recognizing this year’s award nominees for the meaningful work they’re doing to not only tell these remarkable military stories and experiences, but also spotlight important topics like post-traumatic stress, veteran suicide and more,” says Tran. “The telling and retelling of these stories reminds us of the selfless service and sacrifice so many military members and their families have made, are making and will continue to make.”

The following titles are nominated for award recognition in the following categories:

Best Narrative Short
● “Brainstorms” directed by Aron Meinhardt and Julie Pacino
● “Police Three” directed by Jimmy Lucarz
● “We Got Your Six” directed by Danny Zanelotti

Best Comedy Short
● “Hollywood Post 43’s Last Stand” directed by John Mendoza
● “Mission Control” directed by Timothy Ingold
● “The Gentle Sex” directed by John Adams

Best Documentary Short
● “BY MY SIDE” directed by Vicki Topaz
● “Mariupol Defender” directed by Stanislav Puzdriak
● “The Metalldetektor” directed by Brendan Hughes
● “The Richard Stroud Story” directed by Shannon Fontaine
● “Time for Change: The Kathy Bruyere Story” directed by Daniel Bernardi

Best Actress
● Amber Rose Mason, “Return to Remembrance”
● Emma Nossel, “Touch”
● Noy Mustik, “LEAVE”
Best Actor
● Charlie Shotwell, “CHORUS”
● John Mars, “Return to Remembrance”
● Lawrence Adimora, “Brainstorms”
● Nadav Simone Shama, “LEAVE”
● Tate Ellington, “CHORUS”

Best Student Film
● “CHORUS” directed by Daniel J. Egbert
● “Major” directed by James Wright
● “The Search” directed by Thomas Brouns
● “The Soldier” directed by Devin O’Guinn
● “Touch” directed by Andrew Brame

Best Documentary Directed by Military or Veterans
● “Let’s Talk About The War” directed by Nick Betts
● “The Gift” directed by David Kniess
● “Time for Change: The Kathy Bruyere Story” directed by Daniel Bernardi
● “Ultimate Sacrifices: CPT Jennifer Moreno” directed by Daniel Bernardi

Best Local Documentary
● “Let’s Talk About The War” directed by Nick Betts
● “Time for Change: The Kathy Bruyere Story” directed by Daniel Bernardi
● “Ultimate Sacrifices: CPT Jennifer Moreno” directed by Daniel Bernardi

Best Narrative Directed by Military or Veterans
● “CHORUS” directed by Daniel J. Egbert
● “Police Three” directed by Jimmy Lucarz
● “The Negative” directed by Tommy Bentz
● “Touch” directed by Andrew Brame
● “We Got Your Six” directed by Danny Zanelotti

Local Choice Award
● “Echoes of Resilience” directed by Alex Frey and Brady Ferdig
● “Major” directed by James Wright
● “The Making of TOPGUN 2” directed by Mark Vizcarra

Best First-Time Feature Director
● Andrea Patiño Contreras, “#IamVanessaGuillen”
● David Kniess, “The Gift”
● Kehinde Ishangi, “Not My Enemy”
● Louisa Merino, “Jerry’s Last Mission”
● Nick Betts, “Let’s Talk About The War”

Best Documentary Feature
● “#IamVanessaGuillen” directed by Andrea Patiño Contreras
● “The Gift” directed by David Kniess
● “To What Remains” directed by Christopher Woods
● “Ultimate Sacrifices: CPT Jennifer Moreno” directed by Daniel Bernardi

Founders’ Choice Award
● “BY MY SIDE” directed by Vicki Topaz
● “Jerry’s Last Mission” directed by Louisa Merino
● “Let’s Talk About The War” directed by Nick Betts
● “The Metalldetektor” directed by Brendan Hughes

Bridging the military-civilian divide through cinema
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 filmmaking 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