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Preview: GI Film Festival Provides Context For Films

Narrative films, documentaries, and shorts highlighted

A group of British soldiers get trapped in a dry river bed filled with land m...

Credit: Honora

Above: A group of British soldiers get trapped in a dry river bed filled with land mines from a previous conflict in "Kilo Two Bravo," the opening night film in the GI Film Festival in San Diego.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando interviews filmmaker Ric Burns about his documentary, "Debt of Honor."

San Diego Film Consortium and KPBS, in conjunction with The GI Film Group, are bringing the GI Film Festival to San Diego. It runs Tuesday through Sunday at multiple venues.

The GI Film Group oversees the GI Film Festival in Washington, D.C., which bills itself as the first and only military film festival in the United States. The San Diego edition of the festival kicks off with “Kajaki: The True Story,” which has been re-titled “Kilo Two Bravo” (probably to give it a more military sounding title).

The film looks to a group of men stationed at Kajaki Dam in Afghanistan in 2006. The British soldiers keep their eyes peeled for Taliban activity but on this particular day, the enemy turns out to be a dried-out river bed riddled with anti-personnel mines left from a previous conflict with the Russians.

Director Paul Katis serves up a stripped down war film that has no music score to distract or dictate emotions, and no flashy cutting or obnoxious handheld camerawork. Instead, he focuses on the men and the intense situation where every step could lead to an explosion and someone losing a limb.

Katis builds the intensity under the hot Afghan sun and by the end of the film (which I watched online at home) I felt such an affinity with the men and the danger they were dealing with that I caught myself tip-toeing around my house as if it were a minefield. That's intense. Katis serves up a grueling 108 minutes in which you, like the men, just want to escape.

I've been talking about horror all month and this is the kind of real world horror that is disturbing and upsetting. It is also a tribute to the bravery of these men. The film is not trying to argue any political points, and it doesn't matter where your politics may fall, but you feel compassion and empathy for these men and their situation.

The film played even better in conjunction with one of the documentaries screening at the festival, Ric Burns’ “Debt of Honor.”

Burns’ documentary is about the history of disabled veterans. It also allows a number of wounded men and women discuss what it is like to go into battle and come back without one or more limbs, or to come back with emotional trauma that has no visible physical scars. This is a benefit of a GI Film Festival, being able to see films with related themes, grouped together and highlighting each other in ways that can inspire audiences to see with new eyes.

The down side of a GI focused festival is the danger of preaching to the converted, so to speak. The branding of the festival will attract a crowd interested in this topic and will be less likely to draw a wide range of people. But "Kilo Two Bravo" is at least one film that merits a wider audience, so look for it on demand or streaming.

At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, I will be hosting a Reality vs. Fiction Block at UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley presented as part of the Local Film Showcase.

Ticket information is available online.

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