GI Film Festival –This Weekend in San Diego

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One of the fun things about being a film critic is going to all the movie screenings weeks before they open. Another fun thing is being invited to film festivals. The problem is — there are a lot of film festivals! The one I look forward to most, is the San Diego International Film Festival. Aside from the great films they get, I’ve met some great actors (Alan Arkin, one of my all time favorites; this year it will be Anette Bening).

I had my friend Craig Herdrich ask me to see him in a movie (Passed Over) as part of a film festival Thursday. I had to turn it down, to go to the opening of the second annual GI Film Festival. I didn’t go to that last year, and was so glad I went this time.

It was at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. As my girlfriend and I walked up, we saw some military veterans being brought in by with a Harley-Davidson escort, in some classic cars.

The opening night film is one I was really looking forward to. It was USS Indianapolis: The Legacy. The two filmmakers are local, but that’s not why I was interested. It’s the subject matter. This is the story of the ship during World War II that was the last ship sunk, and nobody knew it was hit by torpedoes. That means hundreds and hundreds went down with the ship. And (as most of us first learned in the movie Jaws), in the four days the others were stranded in the water, they were eaten by sharks. The documentary went in paths I had never known about, and it was absolutely riveting. What made it even more interesting was the fact that three of the actual survivors were in the crowd, and a few of the people on the rescue boats.

The Q&A after had them (Al Celaya, Ed Harrell, and John Woolston), as well as the two filmmakers — Sara Vladic and Melanie Capacia, both of whom are locals.

In a weekend when a lot of people going to movies will flock to see Sully, how about you go see this documentary. It shows again on Sunday at the UltraStar in Mission Valley (with the same guests after the screening). You thought it was impressive when Sully made a water landing on the Hudson. Well, who knew there was a dangerous water landing involved in rescuing the crew of the USS Indianapolis. Heck, there were lots of things I didn’t know about this, including a court martial involving the captain of the ship.

There are a variety of films (even the terrifical animated “Storks”, which is perfect for families on Friday night).

Aside from the great wine and appetizers at opening night, I got to have some interesting conversations. I talked to Jeri, the Movie Maven with the Military Press. And one of the filmmakers behind the Indianapolis movie — Sara Vladic. We talked about our favorite documentaries, and favorite movies (It’s one of the rare times I’ve been at event and brought up the movie The Debt, and somebody actually saw it).

I asked her how many hours of footage she had for her documentary and if there was anything she hated cutting out. She laughed and said, “Well, we had 170 hours of footage. It was about 2,600 hours we spent on editing.”

This was the first documentary she’s done, and it took her around 15 years to complete.

Now, if the idea of seeing a movie about people that survived a Japanese sub attack, and various sharks, doesn’t pique your interest, the GI Film Festival has 28 different films. Check out their website ( and see if there’s something for you.