GI Film Festival — 2018

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I hadn’t been to the GI Film Festival in a few years. My wife and I enjoyed that experience and still talk about the documentary we saw on the U.S.S. Indianapolis, and the two young women that made that documentary.  

We went to the opening of the Festival Tuesday night in Balboa Park and caught a couple of interesting films. One of them was called The Registry. It dealt with the Military Intelligence Service, which were the thousands of Japanese-American veterans that, while sworn to secrecy for decades later, had many duties (lots of them dangerous) during World War II. It was so heartwarming to watch many of these guys get together, after decades of not knowing what happened to their comrades. The first story of the bunch, has them visiting a family in Lemon Grove. And the interactions these old veterans have with their families, often times, just brings tears to your eyes. An incredibly moving documentary, and it got me interested in finding the first book published in America written by a Japanese American — No-No Boy.

The other movie was a short called American. It’s about a Japanese-American in his early 90s, who volunteers at the Japanese American National Museum, and talks to a mother and daughter about his time in an internment camp. When the woman shows a photo of her grandfather who fought in World War II, the man realizes he served with him. The man in the movie — George Takei. To most people, that would be interesting because he was in Star Trek, and you always see him pop up in a series of hysterical memes. It had a more powerful importance then most probably weren’t aware of. In real life, when Takei was 5-years-old, soldiers showed up at his house and took his family to an internment camp. As he told the sold-out crowd that was lucky enough to see this film on opening night…he initially thought it was fun going to the grounds of Santa Anita and seeing where the horses slept. It wasn’t as fun for his parents, and many other Japanese Americans, who lost everything. Since Takei was mingling with the crowd after the film, I asked him a bit about the short. As we were discussing it, my wife asked a question about how the house he had in the movie could be the same one he grew up in (they show a flashback). He explained to us that not all the people that went to the camps lost everything. He said, “My grandfather had a farm. There was a German immigrant that had a farm next to him, if you can believe that! When they were taking my grandfather, he asked him to take care of the farm. He told him he could keep all the profits from it. He just wanted the land back when he got out. Not everyone was that lucky. That guy was a man of his word.”

There’s always interesting people you meet at these events, too. I was talking to a pilot, who is the President and CEO of The Distinguished Flying Cross Society. I found out there was a documentary made about them that he’s featured in called Distinguished Wings — Over Vietnam. He shared some great stories with us. I asked about what he thinks of war movies, and he had some great takes. He loved South Pacific, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Shane. I told him I wasn’t big into Westerns, but Shane was great. When I brought up one of my favorites — The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, his eyes lit up. When I told him I was surprised Catch-22 wasn’t more successful, he agreed, adding “It was a great book and movie.”

He was also able to explain to me why being colorblind would keep me from being a pilot.

Sweeney earned his wings in 1962, and qualified as an aircraft commander, including 27 combat missions in 1964. The year of my birth in 1969, he was flying attack jets in Vietnam. At one point, I was talking to someone else, and missed the story he told another person at our table about coming back and seeing bullet holes in the bottom of his plane.

He earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses in a one-week period in 1972. I looked him up when I got home and, when it was all said and done, he was involved in 200 combat missions, 4334 flight hours, and 757 carrier landings, garnering 4 individual S/F Air Medals, and 2 Naval Commendation Medals. Yet the biggest kick I think he got was finding out my wife went to his old school — St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia.

At one point, my wife pointed out a woman in the crowd and said, “She looks much too beautiful and put together to be at a military film festival. She’s the type of person you’d see at the Cannes Film Festival.” I said, “Hey…that’s Rosemary Watson.” She’s a local talent that can sing and do more impersonations than anyone I know (she’s been on Howard Stern, Jimmy Kimmel, The View, and a bunch of other shows). One of the things she’s involved in is called Rosie’s Military Cards ( They make these beautiful 3-D cards that put the ones at Papyrus to shame. They cover all branches of the military, and they’re perfect for that loved one you have that’s serving.

I didn’t get to talk to her boyfriend, retired Marine Colonel Richard Coleman, that much. It seems he’s involved in a lot of military organizations around town. He even invited me to an event they hold  at the University Club that aims to have the military be more understood by civilians.

There aren’t just military folks at this festival. I saw a couple of local filmmakers I know. One of them, Lawrence Roeck, wrote/directed the movie Diablo (Scott Eastwood, Danny Glover).

You may have missed your chance to meet George Takei, but you could probably still rock out with Roeck and other filmmakers, and see some interesting military themes movies.

Today, you can catch Never Forget, which also covers the stories of some of the Japanese-American veterans of the 442nd Regiment. There’s Unforgotten, about a grandson discovering the story of his grandfather in the Korean War. The Flashback deals with a Vietnam Combat Veteran suffering from PTSD. It’s a slightly darker and more powerful story that also has a grandson/grandfather relationship.

There’s a movie about the untold story of the pilots that flew F-105 THUDs in Vietnam in the ‘60s. It’s called Thud Pilots, and it might make you realize that flying planes isn’t all just the fun and games Goose and Maverick had here in Coronado.

And speaking of the guys having all the fun, Thursday you can catch The Hello Girls, The Story of America’s First Female Soldiers. Who even realized over 200 American woman were serving overseas during World War I? The other two movies you can see Thursday include Black Jack Pershing, and I Am That Man, about a Navy SEAL that in many ways, will remind you of the movie that put Jeremy Renner on the map — The Hurt Locker.

Friday you’ll get The Last Signal, about a guy who thought he was the last surviving member of a World War Ii navy ship, but his daughter (and Facebook), helped him realize that’s not the case.

There’s Aircraft Carrier: Guardian of the Seas, which I was lucky enough to catch at the IMAX theatre a few hundred feet away from the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. If you didn’t see it at the Reuben H. Fleet, see it here Friday night. The other films that day include Coming Out to Grandma, From Baghdad to the Bay, Hotflakes, Satellite Drop, The Dark Resurgence, Safe with Me, G.I. Jose (is that a great name for a movie, or what), Lion in a Box, Let it Go, and Popcorn & Chocolate…my two favorite things to consume while watching movies.

Saturday, you could catch the awards celebration at the DoubleTree, hosted by comedian and former Naval officer Jamie Kaler. And yes, there are still movies showing all day. At the UltraStar Cinemas in Hazard Center, it’s Heroes Dive, Kilimanjaro Warriors, We Are Not Done Yet, The Weight of Honor, and Surviving Home.

Now, at Comic Con, Sunday is known as the boring day with all the kids movies. Sure, there is one animated movie they’ve got that the kids will love (Sgt. Stubby — An American Hero, about an adopted dog and Army soldier in World War I); but the movies the GI Film Festival will have on their closing day are just as strong. There’s Code of Honor: One Soldier’s Stand for Equality, Brooklyn in July, Major Capers: The Legend of Team Broadminded, My Voice My American, Do No Harm, Trauma, and they’re closing things out with When the Smoke Clears: A Story of Brotherhood, Resilience and Hope. It deals with young Israeli soldiers trying to rebuild their lives after serious injuries during service.

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