TR Robertson ….The 3rd Annual G.I. Film Festival returned to San Diego, this year kicking-off the five day event for the first time in San Diego North County. The festival features films with diverse themes and stories that covers the lives of service men and women from military experiences spanning World War II to present day conflicts. Films come from around the United States, including films made in San Diego. The festival features 33 films in all, including two World Premieres and eight West Coast Premieres.
The KPBS sponsored festival kicked off with the screening of four films at Regal Carlsbad 12, followed by a preview screening of DreamWorks Pictures, “Thank You for Your Service”, which will have a nationwide release in the next few weeks. The four short films for the opening day, covered events during World War II. Prior to the screening, an opportunity was offered to speak with several World War II veterans who had taken part in the Honor Fight San Diego. The Honor Flight is part of a nationwide network of 130 hubs that provides transportation and accommodations to veterans to visit memorials in Washington, D.C., centered on wars they were in. Top priority is given to most senior veterans, specifically World War II veterans and veterans who are terminally ill. The program is completely funded through donations from individuals, associations, businesses and corporations. Each Tour of Honor trip costs about $250,000. Honor Flight San Diego has flown over 1,000 veterans to Washington, D.C.
At the opening of the Film Festival I spoke with Liz Glater, a volunteer with the program. Liz detailed the process veterans go through to sign-up for the Honor Flight. She said the last flight to D.C. had three veterans over 100 years of age on the trip. All services are provided for the veterans, including guides and volunteers who accompany the veterans. In Carlsbad I met Vic Freudenberger, a 22 year Marine, retired Major, who served in the Pacific Campaign. Fred Koestner, served in the Pacific campaign for 5 years on Taipan. He joined immediately out of high school. Vaughn Aldrecht was in the Air Force (WAC) and served for 18 months from 1944-45, in a secretarial pool in Indiana and California. Richard Fonger was in the Navy, also enlisting right out of high school in 1945 and serving on a floating hospital (APL-13) and surviving Typhoon Louise that hit off of the Philippines in 1945. All of the men and women present said the Honor Flight program was an incredible opportunity for them and others to see the various memorial sites that have been constructed to honor veterans.
The four movies we were to see began with the nine minute short. “All American”. This short film detailed the experiences of Les Cruise, a paratrooper who survived D-Day, jumping in behind Nazi lines. Cruise and his family members were able to fly on the same plane, which 72 years earlier had flown Cruise into the D-Day mission. It also pointed out that Cruise had been an orphan who overcame a variety of obstacles to work as an architect for 60 years after the war, marrying and being a great-grandfather of 13 children.
The second film was called “Rifleman’s Violin”, a 13 minute film about 90 year old violinist Stuart Canin, who as a 19 year old G.I., deployed to Germany toward the end of the war, working with the Army’s 6817th Soldiers Show Company, and along with pianist Gene List, were asked to play a series of numbers for Pres. Harry Truman, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Josef Stalin, at the Potsdam Conference, outside of Berlin, during negotiations on the division of Europe at the end of World War II. Canin, in his 90’s, is still an accomplished musician.
The next film was a 35 minute film called “We Can Do It: Stories of Rosie the Riveter”. The film detailed the importance of women in the war effort, not in the service, but on the home front as thousands and thousands took the place of men who had gone off to war and workers were needed in all of the industries as they changed from peaceful production of goods to the production of items needed in the war effort. In 1941, the United States ranked 19th in the world in the arms race. By the end of WW II, the U.S. would be first. Numerous women were interviewed as they told their stories about working in the various industries and their accomplishments. They also spoke about when they first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many did not know where Pearl Harbor was. They went to work for industries that were now open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, producing rifles, machine guns, tanks, ships, ammunition, uniforms, helmets and much, much more. They also spoke about the food rationing program, food stamps, food shortages, shortages of nylons, victory gardens and more. Painter Norman Rockwell had one of his paintings of Rosie the Riveter published in the Post Magazine, based on a woman named Mary Doyle and later Westinghouse created a factory poster featuring their version of Rosie and the We Can Do It campaign on the poster was born.
The final movie for the opening screening for the G.I. Film Festival was “Happy”, a 40 minute film by director Mike Dorsey, who was in attendance at the festival. “Happy” is about World War II fighter ace, Larry “Happy” Powell, who flew 68 missions over Europe. At one point in the war, he crashed and spent time as a POW in Stalag. He was held captive 3 months and rescued, along with others, by General George Patton’s troops. Powell flew B-26’s in 22 solo missions across the Atlantic. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles, where he worked in two careers. One in the Air National Guard, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel, and one as an assistant director in the Hollywood film and television industry. In the Air National Guard, we was involved in another plane crash, his third, in a jet that left in with burns over 60% of his body. He survived and has been through 7 years of surgeries and over 150 operations. He has a tremendous outlook on life, lots of stories about movie stars. He worked with Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack, Audrey Hepburn and many more famous stars of the screen. All with stories to tell. Even with his deformities he says he decided the best way to approach life was to act naturally, as he didn’t look as his scars, others had to. Today, in his 90’s, he lives in Van Nuys, has 4 children and 11 grandchildren. Director Dorsey, when asked why he makes movies about WW Ii veterans, responded, “I decided it was Now or Never in telling their stories because when they are gone, these stories will be lost forever if we don’t put them down”.
Also in attendance at the opening of the film festival was Lewis University, a festival sponsor, a university in Indiana that specializes in degrees in Aviation Flight, Air Traffic Control, Aviation Administration, Aviation Maintenance, Aerospace Technology, Transportation Distribution & Logistics as well as graduate programs. Other festival sponsors included Kaminskiy Design & Remodeling, City National Bank, National City Mile of Cars, Altus Schools, Bob Baker Subaru and GEICO Military. Also assisting were Alaska Airlines, Scatena Daniels Communications, the Maritime Museum and the Military Press.
At the end of the film shorts, Tom Karlo, KPBS General Manager, thanked those in attendance and gave a bit of information about the premiere of “Thank You for Your Service”. Up next for the festival would be a family night showing of the hit “Wonder Woman” on the USS Midway. Over the weekend, movie short premieres would continue at AMC Mission Valley 20 in San Diego. These films would also cover World War II, the Korean War and the wars in the Mid-East. An awards ceremony for “the best of” would be held at the KPBS – Shiley Studio.
The G.I. Film Festival offers directors, actors and those in the film industry an opportunity to put together on film the stories many would never be able to hear about if it were not for these films. Each year the festival appears, it is an opportunity for those in the community to see a variety of stories and hear about the experiences most people will never be able to witness themselves. It is also a chance to speak with people involved with these events that has shaped this nation over the years.