Big Success for Veteran Documentary Corps at the Castro Theatre


Photo by Shuntaro Ogata

Name Taylor LoNigro
Date March 12, 2014

On Tuesday, February 11, our staff at DocFilm Institute, SF State, and the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) premiered the 7:00pm screening of the Veteran Documentary Corps (VDC) project at the Castro Theatre to a receptive and large crowd. Seven new, short documentaries were presented, delving into the experiences of veterans ranging from WWII all the way up to our current issues in the Middle East. We were truly happy and proud to be a part of the success that the night brought.

Veteran Documentary Corps, a non-profit organization founded in 2011, empowers filmmakers and veterans from all over the world to relay their true stories to other veterans and global citizens alike. It is VDC’s goal to develop a greater understanding of veteran experience via filmmaking.

Preceding the screening, a jam-packed reception was held on the mezzanine level of the theatre where guests were able to enjoy a glass of wine and hors ‘d’oeuvres. Notable attendees included San Francisco Film Society’s Board President David Winton and Board members Melanie Blum and Penelope Wong, University of San Francisco President Rev. Stephen A. Privett, SF State’s Provost Sue Rosser, filmmaker David Arnold, CEO of Charles Schwab Investments Marie Chandoha, President of the San Francisco YMCA Chuck Collins, as well as 600 guests, students, and faculty.

“I found the event extraordinarily successful,” Sue Rosser said proudly. “Not only was each of the films very well done, but every seat in the theatre was taken and occupied from an amazing mix of veterans, San Francisco Film Society folks, government leaders, as well as students and faculty from a variety of educational institutions, including SF State. The event very effectively showcased the outstanding work of SFSU’s cinema department.”

The hour-long screening featured the highlighted veterans Casey Conklin, Aldo Giannini, Tim Kochis, Zoe Dunning, Giorgio Mattia, Julie Mendez, Michael Blackwell, John Baumhackl, and David Delgadillo. The documentaries touched on some of the heart-wrenching and personal war struggles and successes these veterans faced during their time at war.

vdc 2

Photo by Shuntaro Ogata

Daniel Bernardi, DocFilm’s Executive Director and the founder of the VDC project directed the films on Tim Kochis (Vietnam War) and Michael Blackwell (Iraq War). Daniel is an Iraq War veteran and active in the Naval Reserves. Blackwell served alongside Daniel in the U.S. Iraq War as a combat camera photographer. After the event I caught up with Daniel, this is what he had to say about the launch.

“I was overjoyed,” said Bernardi. “The opportunity to tell these stories on the big screen at the Castro was a dream come true and the community support was amazing. It truly takes a village”.

Following the screening, the audience had the chance to interact with select filmmakers and featured veterans during an onstage panel led by Michael Behrens, Managing Director of DocFilm and producer of several of the documentaries. The panel included Daniel Bernardi, Casey Conklin, Zoe Dunning, John Giannini, and Tim Kochis; they answered multiple questions and discussed the films in a little more depth. We asked Michael about what it was like working on the project and screening at the Castro.

“It is always a pleasure to stand on the Castro stage,” said Behrens. “Of all that we do at DocFilm, this project means a great deal to me. I love helping people tell their stories, and empowering veterans is very important.”

Not only was the screening an enjoyable evening in the theatre, it was great opportunity to learn about veterans’ issues as well as their personal hardships and triumphs. The panel also touched on the high rate of veteran suicides. According to a study by the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has decreased since 1999, while the estimated total numbers of veterans who have died as a result of suicide increased as a whole.

It is absolutely fascinating hearing their stories. At Doc Film we are proud to be a part of the VDC project and love working with the veterans. It took a lot of hard work from everyone on the project and we are exceptionally thankful for those who participated.

Next on our agenda is the Society for Cinema & Media Studies conference. Taking place in Seattle from Wednesday, March 19 to Sunday, March 23 this year, the conference provides an interactive forum for teachers and scholars in the film and media industry where they can learn more about the industry, present research, collaborate, and network among other conference goers. It is an educational opportunity where people around the nation can congregate to share experiences as well as create new ones. Our cinema faculty and staff members Daniel Bernardi, Michael Behrens, Randy Rutsky, and Aaron Kerner, as well as many SFSU students and alumni, will travel to the Evergreen State to participate in the Society’s conference. With all the creative minds that will be attending, I can’t wait to hear about their shared experiences.

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