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Documentary traces investigation into mysterious death during Vietnam war

Jimmy McDowell served in Vietnam during the war. After being honorably discharged, he returned to the country as a civilian, where he died mysteriously in 1972.

Filmmaker Peter McDowell was just 5 years old when his older brother died. He spent 10 years investigating what happened.

"I just had a lot of question that were unanswered," McDowell said.


Growing up, McDowell said his brother's death was shrouded in silence and secrets. It haunted his family. In 2010, he decided to learn everything he could about his brother. The documentary "Jimmy in Saigon," which makes its San Diego premier Wednesday at the G.I. Film Festival, documents his search.

In the film, McDowell travels across the U.S. looking for answers. His questions lead him to France and Vietnam.

McDowell, who is gay, said his family often wondered if a romantic interest brought his brother back to Vietnam more than 50 years ago. There were questions about his brother's sexuality, too, he said.

"Based on something my mom told me at one point, I wasn't so sure about his sexuality," McDowell said. "It was probably a lot more difficult in the late 60s and early 70s."

The film has been on the festival circuit for the last year but McDowell said this is its first screening at a military and veteran themed festival.


"We've been in mainstream festivals (and) we've been in LGBT festivals," he said. "But we've never been in a military or veterans film festival before, so this is something I've been looking forward to."

"Jimmy in Saigon" screens at the Museum of Photographic Arts at the San Diego Museum of Art Wednesday at 7:45 pm.