Takei returns to San Diego for GI Film Festival


The GI Film Festival San Diego is launching its fourth year in style, with an expanded lineup and a very special guest on opening night.

Tuesday’s opening night will feature “Star Trek” alum George Takei, who will join in the festivities and discuss the short film “American.”

While Takei hasn’t attended the festival before, this is not the first visit here for the multitalented actor/activist, who plays a main character in “American.” He and his husband, Brad Altman Takei, lived in San Diego for a few months in 2012 while he starred in the Old Globe’s “Allegiance.” That musical, which set an all-time box-office record at the prestigious Balboa Park theater, went on to Broadway.

“We have an existing love for San Diego,” Takei said from his home in Los Angeles. “And the Old Globe agreeing to stage the premiere of ‘Allegiance’ also endeared your city to me. I’m so glad the GI Film Festival has given us the opportunity to visit again.”

Joining Takei will be Richie Adams, who wrote and directed “American.” Also participating in opening-night festivities and discussions will be Bill Kubota and Steve Ozone. Their film, “The Registry,” which follows the Takei short, is an hourlong documentary about Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service during World War II.

In “American,” Takei, 81, portrays a 94-year-old veteran who volunteers at Los Angeles’ Japanese American National Museum, where the movie was filmed. His character’s encounter with a mother and her daughter brings up memories of his being forced into one of the notorious internment camps that, during World War II, imprisoned Japanese Americans. Takei’s character later joins the United States’ 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the highly honored Japanese American Army unit.

Many Takei fans know that the internment-camp theme – like the one chronicled in “Allegiance” – is personal for him. At the age of 5, in 1942, he and his family were forcibly relocated from Los Angeles to an internment camp in Arkansas.

“This movie is very relevant,” Takei said. “The government couldn’t draw the distinction between Japanese bombers and Japanese Americans. It’s about using a broad brush to characterize a group of people as ‘dangerous enemy agents.’ ”

Local lens, national scope

Because the national GI Film Festival held in Washington, D.C., in May was truncated, the local festival was asked to work with national organizers to present the full lineup here. But this did not diminish the GI Film Festival San Diego’s dedication to promote movies with local representation.

Organized by the Film Consortium San Diego, KPBS and the GI Film Group of Washington, D.C., the festival’s San Diego version launched in 2015.

“The film festival was only in D.C., and we wanted it here because we have such a huge military population,” Film Consortium founder and president Jodi Cilley said. “It made sense to show films here and get people talking about issues concerning veterans and active military.

“Our mission is twofold. We want to showcase the local film talent. And we want to explore the different conflicts, generations and groups of people connected to the military.”

Last year, more than 30 experts, filmmakers and their subjects participated in the festival’s panels. This year, 34 films – 19 documentaries and 15 fictional narratives – are set to be screened. Several entries highlight African American or Latino experiences in, and after, military life. Others explore issues involving people in the LGBTQ community, as well as women who have served. The festival includes films about conflicts in Iraq, Vietnam, and both world wars. And a three-minute documentary about parents and deployment, “My Voice, My American,” was directed by children at Camp Pendleton’s Stewart Mesa School.

“In deciding the selections, we look at the overall picture of the films being screened, making sure it’s not your typical group of stories,” Cilley said. “We really push for diversity, so that we’re giving a wide-ranging perspective.”

Wood is a freelance writer.

GI Film Festival San Diego

When: Various times, Tuesday through Sept. 30

Where: Museum of Photographic Arts, 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park, and UltraStar Cinemas, 7510 Hazard Center Drive, Mission Valley

Tickets: $8 to $10 for individual films; $120 for an all-access pass