Skip to Content

GI Film Festival San Diego Announces 2024 Award Nominees

The May 11 Awards Celebration recognizes the standout films and filmmakers of the
ninth annual military film festival, hosted by comedian, musician, advocate and U.S. Army Combat Veteran Thom Tran

SAN DIEGO, CA – April 4, 2024 – The GI Film Festival San Diego announces the 2024 award nominees across 11 distinct categories, including awards for Best Documentary Feature, Best Narrative Short, and New Director Award. A full list of the awards and nominees can be found below.

Members of the GI Film Festival San Diego Advisory Committee select the nominated films and filmmakers from the country’s largest military film festival based on how closely they align with the festival’s overall mission–to bridge the divide between the military and civilians through the power of cinema. This year’s award nominees exemplify the power of storytelling that reflects the experience and creativity of service members and veterans. 

Winners will be announced at the GI Film Festival San Diego 2024 Awards Celebration at the Museum of Photographic Arts at the San Diego Museum of Art (MOPA @ SDMA) in Balboa Park on May 11 starting at 7 p.m. The event marks the official conclusion of the six-day military film festival and features a pre-ceremony reception, a post-awards celebration, and a full awards program to honor this year’s films.

Army combat veteran turned stand-up comedian Thom Tran is set to return as the celebration host, marking his fourth time closing out the festival. Thom’s effervescent wit combined with his military experience makes him the perfect fit as the Awards Celebration host.

Following a combat injury that ended his military career, Thom founded “The GIs of Comedy Tour,” a comedy troupe composed of fellow veterans that has since performed around the world. You may have seen Thom on your TV too, having had roles on ABC’s “Black-ish,” as well as CBS’ “SEAL Team” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

“I’d be at the GI Film Festival San Diego whether they asked me to host or not–it’s that good of an event,” says Thom. “It’s just a bonus that I get to go to the festival, tell a few jokes, and celebrate the incredible films that make the festival so special.”

New awards at the 2024 GI Film Festival San Diego

This year also includes a handful of new award categories aimed at better highlighting the diverse voices uplifted at the GI Film Festival San Diego. The Veteran’s Voice, Woman’s Voice, and Director’s Vision awards all place a bigger spotlight on incredible creators whose perspectives are often overlooked in the film industry while the Best Animated Film award celebrates the surging popularity of animation as a medium for impactful military storytelling.

Tickets to The Awards Celebration are open to the public and are $40 per person. Active duty military, veterans and KPBS members can get tickets for $35. For more information or to buy tickets to the celebration, visit

2024 GI Film Festival San Diego Awards Nominees:

Best Animated Film

  • “A Life of Honor” directed by Richard O’Connor
  • “The Echoes of War” directed by Richard O’Connor
  • “THE SPRAYER” directed by Farnoosh Abedi

Best Documentary Feature 

  • “Black Uniform” directed by Robert Darwell
  • “Final Fight: When the Trauma of War Comes Home” directed by Frances Causey
  • “Interpreters Wanted” directed by Robert Ham
  • “Make Peace or Die” directed by Manny Marquez
  • “Westermann: Memorial to the Idea of Man If He Was an Idea” directed by Leslie Buchbinder

Best Documentary Short 

  • “Stamp Our Story” directed by Kaia Rose and Robert Horsting 
  • “The Volunteer” directed by David Brodie
  • “We Carry On” directed by Sareen Hairabedian

Best Local Film 

  • “JULIAN: a Jiu Jitsu Story” directed by Max Bloom
  • “Long Live Xander the Great” directed by Devin Scott
  • “Pueblo, A Year of Crises In America” directed by Bill Lowe

Best Narrative Short 

  • “Cinemeta” directed by James Arterberry
  • “Peanut Butter Shot” directed by Paige Compton
  • “The Magic Ticket” directed by Yelena Krivosheyeva

Best Student Film

  • “Cheddar” directed by Ryan Murtha
  • “MORE THAN BROTHERS” directed by Andrea von Siebenthal
  • “The Steak” directed by Kiarash Dadgar

Director’s Vision Award (for Best Narrative Directed by Military or Veterans)

  • “Cheddar” directed by Ryan Murtha
  • “Cinemeta” directed by James Arterberry
  •  “Peanut Butter Shot” directed by Paige Compton

Founders’ Choice Award

  • “Black Uniform” directed by Robert Darwell
  • “Interpreters Wanted” directed by Robert Ham
  • “Stamp Our Story” directed by Kaia Rose and Robert Horsting 
  • “Westermann: Memorial to the Idea of Man If He Was an Idea” directed by Leslie Buchbinder

New Director Award (for Best First-Time Director)

  • James Arterberry, “Cinemeta”
  • David Brodie, “The Volunteer”
  • Peter McDowell, “Jimmy In Saigon”

Veterans Voice Award (for Best Documentary Directed or Produced by Military or Veterans)

  • “Interpreters Wanted” directed by Robert Ham
  • “JULIAN: a Jiu Jitsu Story” directed by Max Bloom
  • “Make Peace or Die” directed by Manny Marquez

Women’s Voice Award

  • “Final Fight: When the Trauma of War Comes Home” directed by Frances Causey
  •  “Peanut Butter Shot” directed by Paige Compton
  • “The Magic Ticket” directed by Yelena Krivosheyeva
  • “We Carry On” directed by Sareen Hairabedian

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, documentary subjects and/or subject-matter experts. The festival concludes with an exciting awards celebration, honoring excellence in filmmaking across multiple categories.

The 2024 festival is sponsored in part by AARP, AMC Networks, Feeding San Diego, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, Military Times, Resounding Joy, Scatena Daniels Communications, SDSU Global Campus, Southwestern College, U.S. Bank, the USS Midway Foundation, Verizon, Veterans United Home Loans of San Diego and Veterans Village of San Diego. Additional support is provided by the Navy League San Diego, SAG-AFTRA and The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at VVSD.

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. Film Consortium San Diego 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

The following film lineup is listed in alphabetical order:

  • “Black Uniform” – 12 Black veterans, serving within the ranges of WWII to present day, share their heartfelt perspectives on what it felt like to be on the proverbial front lines as a Black man or woman in the U.S. military. Some of the veterans served when the military was still segregated while others voluntarily enlisted for action and others were called to duty by a draft. The film highlights the nation’s shifting views on those who serve and tackles the unique and additional challenges that women in the military face when they enlist. Featured veterans include Romay Davis, one of the very few surviving members of the only Black female battalion sent overseas during World War II, the 6888; and former Congressman Charles Rangel, who received the Purple Heart for his sacrifice during the Korean War. Produced and Directed by Robert Darwell | Documentary Feature | 1 hour 26 minutes | 2023 | USA | San Diego Premiere 
  • “Cheddar” – Scott’s night is thrown into chaos when an alien spaceship crash lands into his proposal picnic. Written and Directed by Ryan Murtha | Narrative Short, Comedy/Futuristic | 15 minutes | 2023 | USA | West Coast Premiere | Made by or Starring Military or Veterans | Student Film
  • “Cinemeta” – Two military veterans turned amateur filmmakers embark upon a mission to produce the perfect, festival-worthy, 10-minute comedy short film. Written, Produced, and Directed by James Arterberry | Narrative Short, Comedy/Satire | 10 minutes | 2023 | USA | San Diego Premiere | New Director | Made by or Starring Military or Veterans
  • “The Echoes of War” – In early 1943, U.S. Army Sergeant Harrison Wright was drafted into World War II. When the war ended, he was stationed in a small village in Belgium near the border with Germany. At StoryCorps, he talks to his grandson, Sean Guess, about the honorable way he paid tribute to his fallen comrades on such a momentous occasion. Directed by Richard O’Connor | Documentary Short, Animation | 2 minutes | 2022 | USA 
  • “Final Fight: When the Trauma of War Comes Home” – Largely unknown to most Americans, over the last 20 years, the United States has lost almost five times as many active service members and veterans to suicide than have been lost in all of the Global War on Terrorism operations. “Final Fight: When the Trauma of War Comes Home” goes deeper than any documentary to date in revealing the root causes of this tragic epidemic by profiling a diverse group of veterans struggling with either combat and sexual assault-related post traumatic stress. Leading experts in the field of PTS therapy and brain science offer hope and answers to the struggling veterans profiled in the series as well as to the family and friends who love them. Directed by Frances Causey | Documentary Feature | 1 hour 35 minutes | 2023 | USA | West Coast Premiere
  • “Interpreters Wanted” – Saifullah and Ismail Haqmal are two brother interpreters who served alongside U.S. Forces in Afghanistan for over a decade. “Interpreters Wanted” follows the brothers from their childhood growing up during the Russian/Afghan war, through the Taliban era, and then the invasion by NATO forces after 9/11. When Army veteran and documentarian Robert Ham deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, he worked with Saifullah and Ismail and became close friends. After Ham’s unit left Afghanistan, the brothers became desperate to escape. They turned to their American friends to petition Congress and help them escape the Taliban’s rise to power. Produced, Edited, and Directed by Robert Ham | Documentary Feature | 1 hour, 24 minutes | 2023 | USA | San Diego Premiere | Made By or Starring Military or Veterans
  • “Jimmy In Saigon” – “Jimmy In Saigon” is a personal exploration into the mysterious death and radical life of Jimmy McDowell, an American 24-year-old Vietnam veteran who died as a civilian in Saigon in 1972, when filmmaker (and Jimmy’s brother) Peter McDowell was only five. While investigating Jimmy’s drug use and sexuality, Peter takes us from the U.S. Midwest to Vietnam, to France and back home again. In his quest to get to know his brother, he uncovers a hidden romance, new family ties and a remarkable global love story. Produced and Directed by Peter McDowell | Documentary Feature | 1 hour, 30 minutes | 2022 | USA | San Diego Premiere | NewFilmmaker 
  • “JULIAN: a Jiu Jitsu Story” – A double amputee Marine, struggling to come to terms with the loss of his legs from an IED in Afghanistan, discovers the healing power of jiu-jitsu. He fights to not only regain his physical strength but also overcome the mental trauma and reclaim his sense of identity and purpose. Directed by Max Bloom | Documentary Short | 59 minutes | 2023 | USA | World Premiere | Local Film | Made by or Starring Military or Veterans 
  • “A Life of Honor” – When Joseph Patton joined the Navy in 1955, he had to serve in silence. At the time, the LGBTQ community could not be open while in the military. Despite being the “perfect sailor,” Joseph was kicked out of the Navy under the assumption that he was homosexual. At StoryCorps, Joseph remembers the pride he took in his service and the beauty and joy that love has brought to his life. Directed by Richard O’Connor | Documentary Short, Animation | 3 minutes | 2021 | USA
  • “Long Live Xander the Great” – Jordan looks back on his childhood and comes to the realization, as we all do, that his parents were not the heroes he imagined them to be, but just people with hopes, dreams and flaws like the rest of us. Written and Directed by Devin Scott | Narrative Short, Experimental | 24 minutes | 2023 | USA | San Diego Premiere | Local Film | Made by or Starring Military or Veterans
  • “The Magic Ticket” – A homeless female veteran, Penny, is camping outside of a fancy restaurant on Christmas Eve when a kind stranger donates a gift card to go inside and get a hot meal. After struggling to get a seat, she is finally able to order dinner when an angry patron calls the police. When the cops try to escort Penny out, it triggers her trauma. Directed by Yelena Krivosheyeva | Narrative Short, Drama | 15 minutes | 2023 | USA | San Diego Premiere | Made by or Starring Military or Veterans
  • “Make Peace or Die” – U.S. Marine Corps veteran Anthony Marquez returned from Afghanistan deeply wounded and riddled with survivor’s guilt. His unit, 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment, lost 17 men on their 2011 deployment to Sangin. Upon returning home, Anthony made it his mission to help the Gold Star families find healing, and in the doing so, attempt to heal himself. Directed by Manny Marquez | Documentary Feature | 1 hour, 35 minutes | 2023 | USA | World Premiere | Made by or Starring Military or Veterans 
  • “MORE THAN BROTHERS” – Since the precipitous retreat of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021 and the subsequent power takeover by the Taliban, the Afghans who helped the Allies are being hunted down and killed. “MORE THAN BROTHERS” portrays the personal sacrifices and political engagement of two Green Berets in a race against time to save the Afghans who kept them safe during their deployments, giving voice to their Afghan allies whose lives have been completely uprooted since the chaotic withdrawal. This short documentary highlights the human cost of political decisions. Directed by Andrea von Siebenthal | Documentary Short | 23 minutes | 2023 | USA | West Coast Premiere | Student Film 
  • “Peanut Butter Shot” – Set in the structured, bland environment of a federal government building, a young Army sergeant daydreams about a magical love. After realizing her crush is working today, she does her best to muster up the courage to ask her out. She has a plan — or so she thought. Hesitation, bad timing, and an over-zealous doctor leave our young sergeant wishing she would’ve taken her shot instead of receiving one. Directed by Paige Compton | Narrative Short, Comedy | 13 minutes | 2023 | USA | World Premiere | Made by or Starring Military or Veterans
  • “Pueblo, A Year of Crises in America” – The true story of an ill-conceived, badly planned espionage mission with crewmen who had no knowledge or training for what they were being asked to perform. The North Koreans attacked and took the crewmen hostage where they endured 11 months of torture and brainwashing, only to face prison time for treason in their own country upon their return. Who will come to their rescue? Directed by Bill Lowe | Documentary Short | 54 minutes | 2023 | USA | Local Film
  • “THE SPRAYER” – In the land occupied by the sprayer’s army, no one has the right to grow any kind of plants, either in public or private. Many of the people and soldiers do not know how a plant grows or what it looks like. One day a soldier finds a seed buried deep down in the dust. His curiosity is just the beginning of something extraordinary, something big, something revolutionary. Directed by Farnoosh Abedi | Narrative Short, Animation/Futuristic | 9 minutes | 2022 | Islamic Republic of Iran | San Diego Premiere | Student Film | Made by or Starring Military or Veterans
  • “Stamp Our Story” – Every stamp has a story. The resilience and determination of Japanese American World War II soldiers, who were asked to fight for their country despite having their freedom unjustly taken away, embody the best of the American spirit. While remembering their achievements and struggles, three elderly Nisei (2nd generation) women share how they led a successful 15-year campaign to issue the Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers of WWII forever stamp. Produced and Directed by Robert Horsting and Kaia Rose | Documentary Short | 19 minutes | 2022 | USA | San Diego Premiere
  • “The Steak” – A birthday ceremony preparation gets upside down as something horrible takes place. Produced and Directed by Kiarash Dadgar | Narrative Short, Drama | 8 minutes | 2023 | Islamic Republic of Iran | San Diego Premiere | Student Film
  • “The Volunteer” – During the Vietnam War, American soldier Bruce Nakashima formed a closed but unlikely friendship with L.V. Hendking. Bruce was a Japanese American from California; L.V. Hendking was an African American from Alabama. From U.S. Army Ranger training through their deployment in Vietnam, the two were inseparable, confiding in each other, protecting each other, and providing a sense of home amidst the horror of war. “The Volunteer” follows Bruce’s 50-year search for L.V., with intimate, heartwarming, and occasionally hilarious asides and revelations. It explores the power of friendship and loyalty, the weight of family expectations, and the complexities of identity and belonging. Produced and Directed by David Brodie | Documentary Short | 35 minutes | 2023 | USA | San Diego Premiere | New Filmmaker 
  • “We Carry On” – In July 2022, Wounded Warrior Project and Community Building Art Works brought together 12 caregivers of severely wounded veterans through a six-week virtual poetry workshop that culminated in an on-stage performance in Washington, D.C. “We Carry On” follows the caregivers as they prepare to take the stage, perform their collaborative poem, and reflect on the shared experience. Directed by Sareen Hairabedian | Documentary Short, Experimental | 11 minutes | 2023 | USA | World Premiere
  • “Westermann: Memorial to the Idea of Man If He Was an Idea” – “Westermann: Memorial to the Idea of Man If He Was an Idea” is a 3D documentary film about the life and work of artist, Marine, and acrobat H.C. (Cliff) Westermann. As a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Westermann’s dramatic personal history can be traced through the beguiling, surreal artworks he made to process the horrors he witnessed on the front lines. In doing so, he became an inspiration for many young artists. The film reveals ways in which Westermann protected his empathic spirit – and sanity – by ‘sculpting’ his body, artworks, friendships, his hand-hewn house, and his art-filled letters to his dearest friends and family. The documentary explores themes of resiliency, hope, and humor with a script culled from over a thousand of Westermann’s letters and one audio-interview – voiced by four-time Academy-Award nominee Ed Harris. Written and Directed by Leslie Buchbinder | Documentary Feature, Experimental | 1 hour, 31 minutes | 2023 | USA | San Diego Premiere