Military service has long been suffused with sincere sentimentality. Shakespeare wrote in Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile.” Righteously, it has also been accorded deep reverence. At Gettysburg, Lincoln stood where the fallen “gave the last full measure of devotion.” Those were the thoughts in my mind as I hiked the quarter mile from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Gate 5 to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Command Museum, where the GI Film Festival San Diego was about to be officially launched. Where, I wondered, would the festival come down between these standing traditions of bloodied bromance and humbling dedication?
The landscape I walked through was stark, indeed Spartan, not another person to be seen or sound to be heard among the plain stucco buildings. Then, suddenly, I heard, “Left, left, left, right, left.” Four solitary figures on extra duty drill. For me, a fanfare for the common GI and a fitting prelude to the preview inside the museum. Now in its fifth year and thoroughly under the auspices of San Diego’s KPBS TV, filmmakers and supporters alike made clear that this was a festival of life, the life of those who also served who stayed at home and those who were able to come home after serving. It was, as one supporter put it, a mission to build a bridge over the deep and ever widening gap between the one percent who served and the ninety-nine percent who “never wore the cloth.” Not about the tip of the spear, not the Halls of Montezuma, not saving Private Ryan, not booyah, but about those who bore the burden in the wake of the warriors.
These sons, daughters, and friends of the fleet and the regiment have lived mostly silent lives, possibly the most taciturn group of war participants ever, but now they are speaking loud and clear to a new generation of filmmakers. Almost to a person, each maker I interviewed emphasized how found materials, either given or discovered in often surprising ways, made their work possible. That is the aesthetic at work here. The voice is singular—the short and simple stories of those who can no longer be relegated to collateral service and little recognition.
Too many stories to summarize here, but the coverage is impressive. According to the preview, film themes range from survivor’s guilt, healing through visual and performing arts, struggling with military trauma, and the LGBTQIA+ community. Also highlighted are military experiences from within the Asian and Pacific Island cultures, as well as international films from Australia and Israel. Events covered in this year’s lineup span the Civil War to present day conflicts. Also included this year is a film with a U.S. Coast Guard storyline. San Diego-centric films and creatives also feature prominently, through the festival’s collaboration with Film Consortium San Diego. Women filmmakers and film subjects alike take the guy out of GI.
My father fought in three wars so I could fight in none. America’s military legacy is my remembrance of things past. The GI Film Festival San Diego makes no arguments other than the participants are to be remembered and that there are a lot more of them than we may have ever known, doing things we could never imagine. Carefully avoiding the military cultism that some Americans think is patriotism, this festival belongs in San Diego, where military service honorably rendered is dutifully and daily honored. With a VIP opening September 24th at Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts, GI Film Festival San Diego promises to expand our understanding of military service far beyond the theater of war. Born Navy Blue, this military brat says, Thanks. We needed this.
The G.I. Film Festival runs September 24 – 29, 2019. For more information and to purchase tickets visit: https://gifilmfestivalsd.org/2019/schedule/
Your Vagabond Bon Vivant
Philly Joe Swendoza