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GI Film Festival hopes to bridge military and civilian divide

 May 18, 2023 at 1:39 PM PDT

S1: There are still a few days left to see films by and about America's military. At the GI Film Festival in Balboa Park. In all , the festival hosted by KPBS is screening 31 films at the Museum of Photographic Arts , along with panel discussions with filmmakers. The festival will wrap up on Saturday with an award ceremony. One of the movies shown at the GI Film Festival is a short film called Where To ? It examines an Army combat veterans transition back home after serving in Afghanistan. In one scene , the veteran hears about the attack at the Kabul airport during America's withdrawal.

S2: Eyewitnesses told NPR about a large explosion and then gunfire at Kabul airport. As you know , thousands of people have been gathered there for ten days now. And we saw photos of Afghans running from the scene carrying wounded people in Field barrows , taking them to emergency hospital in Kabul.

S1: Here to talk about that film where two and the whole GI Film Festival are my guests , festival advisory committee member Rick Diskin. And Rick , welcome to the program. Thank you. Hello.

S3: Hello.

S1: And Brian Thompson , director of Where to ? Hi , Brian. Hi.

S4: Hi. Thanks for having me.

S1: Now , Rick , you have had some sold out nights at the festival since it began on Monday.

S3: Part of our mission is to bridge the gap between military and the civilian communities. And every year I've seen increasing numbers for the screenings , and Monday night was outstanding. We had a sold out audience , and it's promising for the future.


S3: So it could be directed by your main actor or produced by people with a military background. You got to have a military connection within the film to to be even eligible.




S4: I was working actually in the VA as the directors of veterans correspondents , but have always been , you know , interested in film , inspired by film. And it's a dream that I've always wanted. So in 2021 , I transitioned into filmmaking and wrote Where to ? Shortly after the fall of Afghanistan and then shot the film while I was in graduate school at Boston University.

S1: Now , Brian , you're an Army combat veteran from the war in Afghanistan.

S4: I do think and this is the challenge with some of the films that Hollywood puts out is I feel like it puts veterans into this false dichotomy that we are , you know , either these Navy SEAL , Army Ranger , Delta Force superheroes or were broken in some way , you know , the broken veteran stereotype , you know , suffering from PTSD , physical disabilities. You know , there's many veterans that are in the middle. You know , as a combat veteran , I don't suffer from PTSD. And this is a story that really kind of focuses on how veterans struggle more in an interpersonal connection with modern society. And that is one of the things that this film really focuses on is is a combat veteran transitioning into modern society and trying to find connection in an alienating world.


S3: Yeah. We do try to , you know , look for the authentic stories , not the stereotypical. And what's great about the film festival every year there's always a batch of new stories which are authentic and are true to the veterans. Real life experience , not what we've seen from a lot of Hollywood pictures.

S1: Brian , tell us a little bit more about your film. Where to ? You've got a little bit of Scorseses Taxi driver in there.

S4: Yeah , that's that's right , Maureen. I often tell people it's my version of Taxi Driver. It's an it's about an Afghanistan combat veteran , Bret Chapman , who's struggling with his new mission as a rideshare driver working in the nation's capital. And as he's driving around Kabul , falling to the Taliban. The news of the service members and you heard it in the clip in the intro , he's dealing with that news while he's also dealing with apathetic and at times rude passengers. Again , I say it's my version of Taxi Driver. But again , he's not this unhinged veteran like Travis Bickle or again , some kind of superhero that we've seen veterans oftentimes portrayed that way. Chapman's neither. The war didn't transform him into some kind of hero or left him broken. And he's just trying to connect with his new community. That can be hard again , in this modern age when we're really glued to our phones and don't and focus on our work and really don't want to be bothered by by the news and what's going on , we're all kind of focus in our own worlds.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition , and I'm talking about the GI Film Festival with advisory committee member Rick Diskin and one of the directors of one of the films , Brian Thompson , director of Where to Rick , the GI Film Festival has been running since 2015. I know that you've been involved with it for eight years. Has it grown ? Has it changed during that time ? Yes.

S3: Yes , it has. I was actually I began with the first film festival in Washington , D.C. and then in 2018 was my first year with the San Diego version of the film festival , which is now the de facto film festival. The pandemic did put us behind by a couple of years , but outside of the pandemic we have been progressing year by year.


S3: It's typically the director , producer or editor. Sometimes this well , for the narratives , it's going to be some of the actors. It's interesting to hear , for instance , that one documentarian spent nine years on their film project , which is a huge amount of time. It's just very fascinating every time in every I always tell people every year I go , I always gain new information about the various conflicts that we've been involved in , and it's always educational and entertaining.


S4: I've been saving this. Maybe consider me old school. I've been saving this film to showcase it in a movie theater. I love going to the movie theater and I want it shown there. The GI Film festivals become the top destination for filmmakers to showcase films about the veteran and military experience. So I know a lot of military veterans are going to be seeing it there. But to what Rick was saying earlier , we need more civilians in that theater to see these types of films because , you know , my film and others really focus on bridging that civilian military divide. You know , when I used to be a high school history teacher and , you know , a lot of students had a lot of misperceptions about the military because they never had like me , I had an uncle grandfathers that served , and they kind of fall for some of the pervasive stereotypes out there about veterans. So it's really important to show the film to civilians as well as veterans. But I'm eager to share this with my buddies. But I was waiting until it makes its way to a movie theater. And again , I'm so grateful that it will be premiering at the GI Film Festival.


S4: And , you know , I do live in D.C. so am in the political epicenter of of that partisan divide. And , you know , I was fortunate when I transitioned. I had a job lined up through Teach for America as a teacher. But today and it wasn't as partisan back then as it is today. And I feel like veterans do face a situation today that's , you know , no different from what Homer described thousands of years ago as Odysseus , when he found himself feeling like a stranger in a native land. Because , you know , I'm living here. I'm just shocked by what political opponents will say to each other. And they might even use some of the choice language we use in firefights against our enemies. And I'll let your listeners use their imaginations there , because I don't want to repeat what we said because I don't want any finds for you guys. But it's it's just sad that Americans can be so angry with each other. And just imagine you're as a veteran when you're transitioning. You fought for your country and you're coming back to see your country is at war with itself. That makes it no easy transition.


S4: You know , I'm currently writing a film that focuses on the withdrawal , but a narrative feature. But again , my my goal , you know , when as a teenager I wrote I was all about action films. But , you know , fast forward now , you know , I want to write and direct a definitive war film of my generation so you can count on other films. And this is this is just the first of many hope.

S1: Now , Rick , Saturday night is the award ceremony for the GI Film Festival.

S3: So some of the advisory committee were enlisted or recruited to look at screeners. I got to screen , I believe , all the documentaries , and we had a scorecard to just put down. Which of these films we appreciated ? I don't remember the specifics , but that is how it gets to the. What is nominated for an award. And , you know , not everybody's going to get an award , but every every film that's in the festival is eligible and we know which ones are nominated. That information is on the GI Film Festival , San Diego website. And of course , the award ceremony is hosted by Tom Tran , who's a fellow veteran and a fellow SAG-AFTRA member. And he's fantastically funny and he's a great , great host for for this event.

S1: Well , I want to thank you both. It sounds like you're looking forward to a good time on Saturday night. Festival Advisory committee member Rick Diskin has been my guest , as well as Brian Thompson , who is the director of Where to one of the short films that's being featured at the GI Film Festival. Thanks so much to you both.

S4: Thanks for having me , Maureen. Thanks.

S3: Thanks. Goodbye.

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A still from the narrative short, "Where to?" directed by Brian Thompson. The short will be screened at the GI Film Festival on May 19, 2023.
Brian Thompson
A still from the narrative short, "Where to?" directed by Brian Thompson. The short will be screened as part of the GI Film Festival on May 19, 2023.

The GI Film Festival kicked off Monday night at the Museum of Photographic Arts. Hosted by KPBS, the multi-day festival features 31 films by and about the military and veterans. It runs through Saturday, May 20.

One of the selected short films, “Where to?”, follows an army combat veteran’s transition to life at home after serving in Afghanistan. Filmmaker Brian Thompson and festival advisory committee member Rik Deskin joined Midday Edition to talk more about the film and what audiences can expect to see at the festival.


Rik Deskin, GI Film Festival advisory committee member

Brian Thompson, director of “Where to?”