Miami VET Fest Makes Its Debut


After a major surgery, Bryan Thompson was laying on his hospital bed when he had an inspired idea. As a military man turned filmmaker, Thompson understood that the production of web series was on the rise. So, with the slogan New Media in a New Way, Thompson set forth to create a new kind of festival that was in line with the vibrant Miami culture.

Miami WEB Fest is a festival that combines the typical film festival concept of screenings, panel discussions, and elaborate award ceremonies with something Thompson calls screen bash. Screen bash takes the content from the festival and displays it onscreen at the hottest clubs while the DJ is playing. This creates a whole new way for the filmmakers and the audience to interact with the material, taking the digital media experience to a new level, while still allowing the filmmakers the same sort of thrills that a filmmaker who creates the traditional type of film would experience.

Miami WEB Fest became an instant success; however, Thompson realized that it was not connecting him to the military film community in the way that he hoped that it would. He wanted to give veterans a platform to explore their untold stories, which lead to the creation of Miami VET Fest. With the first annual Miami VET Fest debuting this fall, I caught up with founder and CEO Bryan Thompson to get a closer look at the significance of having a festival whose aim is to pay honor to the military experience.

Carolina Gratianne: What is Miami VET Fest? 

Bryan Thompson: Miami VET Fest is a film festival for veteran inspired and veteran produced content. It’s a one-day event that happens on September 24th. We have all types of productions from short films to feature-length films and documentaries. We also showcase web series and commercials. We do all the screenings at roughly 7 o’clock, which are followed by an award ceremony and an after party that goes on late into the night.

CG: What inspired the creation of Miami VET Fest?

BT: When I created the Miami WEB Fest, I imagined I would find other filmmakers who are former military. Unfortunately, I didn’t find those people. Most of the filmmakers that were submitting were either people who had been film students or who had pursued this career path the whole time. I really didn’t come across any the first year and then only a few the second year that were actually former military. As a result, I started the Miami VET Fest, which has allowed me to discover other like-minded people who have been in the military. People who have applied their military background to the production process in very successful ways. I’m really excited to be able to showcase their work in the Miami VET Fest.

CG: In your own words, what is your role within Miami VET Fest?

BT: I’m the founder and CEO. I’m sort of responsible for every aspect, but my major focus this year has been connecting the festival’s events with the community. We had our board meeting and the mayor of the city, Tomas Regalado, showed up and explained that the veterans are of high importance to him and the city of Miami. Particularly, supporting homeless veterans, supporting transitioning veterans, and hiring veterans is a high priority. So the fact that there is a VET Fest and a WEB Fest that is veteran owned and operated makes a lot of difference. We believe that the festival will continue to make an increasingly large impact on the community.

CG: How involved are you in the selection process of the festival. Do you play a part in choosing what gets screened? 

BT: I do. The way we have it set up is that we have a group of judges. I’m also a judge. So I have a vote in what gets screened, but that vote is weighed with the other judges that are involved in the process. When there is a tie in the numerical process, then the judges have to get together, and we discuss what the pros and cons are so we can break that tie. I’m intimately involved in the decision-making process.

CG: So in your opinion, what makes a great film? Are there certain qualities that you look for? 

BT: A great film is subjective. A great film may not be a great film for the festival, and a great film for the festival may not be considered a great film by everyone else. What I mean is that art is one of those very subjective things and a lot of times something that may not be completely marketable in Hollywood may be something that people really want to see. In general, to answer your question, we look at the technical aspects such as lighting, sound, etc. Those things are universal. We look at storytelling. Does it have a clear beginning, middle, and end? If it’s a documentary, is it telling a story in a clear, concise way? Overall, is it a message that will resonate with people and that people really need to hear? Is it something that is going to be eye opening? Ultimately, we’re also asking the question, does this film contribute to society in a positive way?

CG: As the CEO and founder of this festival, do you feel a responsibility to the Miami community, to the film community, and to the vet community, to bring a certain level of diversity when you are choosing films? 

BT: Absolutely. Although it’s funny, when you just operate out of fairness the diversity thing happens organically. We don’t have something where we go by a numerical quotient. I wouldn’t operate that way because it needs to be a pure evaluation of art. That being said, of course we want to check ourselves and make sure we’re not being biased in some way. Biases can creep in without the evaluator really realizing that their biases are there. So, what we’ve done is we’ve created diversity in the judges themselves. We hope that the diversity amongst the judges will naturally lead to a sort of fair and honest and sincere process and that everyone has a chance to shine. Cause at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. We’d like to see all artist get their shot at glory.

CG: What advice would you give to filmmakers who are interested in submitting their work to Miami VET Fest? 

BT: I think that when you’re creating a piece of work you don’t want to cut corners. People think that not cutting corners is synonymous with spending a lot of money and that’s not really the case. Sometimes it’s really just a questions of putting in more time and effort into what you’re doing. Personally, I would like to accept absolutely every submission to the festival because I want to recognize veterans for what they’re doing and I feel a certain connection to anyone who is a veteran filmmaker or telling a story that is related to it. But of course that’s not the case because it’s a competition. So if you’re going to enter a competition you want to always make sure that you put your best foot forward. Sometimes that’s going to mean that it takes you a little longer and sometimes that means that you wait a year to submit until it’s exactly right. However, don’t over think it. If you create a film and you show it to 10 people who don’t know you, and they don’t have any reason to tell you I like it or I don’t like it, and all 10 of those people say it’s good as it is but you think that it has flaws that need to be corrected then it probably doesn’t because a good artist is always its own worst critic.

CG: Whether it’s the importance of it, whether it’s the future of it, the present of it, what’s something you would want readers to know about Miami VET Fest?

BT: The VET Fest is designed to give the public an opportunity to show appreciation to veterans in a unique way. These are people who have served our country and have discovered that they have an additional ability that they want to share with the world, and Miami VET Fest is their opportunity to do just that. So people should attend, people should support the event, and people should really remember that this is about more than just art. This is about showing our heroes that we care about their sacrifice and we care about their stories.

For more information about Miami VET Fest, click here.

New VDC film: limited Release

Finding a Safe Place

The Documentary Film Institute and Veteran Documentary Corps are excited to announce the limited release of filmmaker Ingrid Schulz’s new film, Finding a Safe Place. Ingrid was generous enough to share a few words on her new documentary:

“I am pleased to announce that the Veteran Documentary Corps is distributing the film “Finding A Safe Place,,” a film that relays the experiences of several veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and promotes an awareness of the healing power of animal-assisted therapy.

The film focuses on three veterans, Tina, Dennis and Aaron: Tina suffered from a military sexual assault and experienced panic attacks, nightmares, and the fear of being followed. Dennis experienced hearing and balance loss resulting from a puzzling incident occurring during the Vietnam War. Aaron had difficulty adjusting to civilian life after his deployment in Kuwait.

Although interventions of psychotherapy and medicine can improve symptoms, in the long run, an alternate intervention – the adoption of service dogs, appears to provide the most sustained relief.”

~ Ingrid

New Veteran Documentary Corps Release: Joel Hunt

Joel served in the US Army from 1998-2007 working as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist. After three tours in the Iraq War Joel came home and struggled with PTSD, and was eventually diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury. After a tough road, Joel found his road to recovery in competitive snow skiing. With the help of his service dog Barret, Joel is a champion for those with disabilities and fellow veterans diagnosed with a TBI or PTSD. Joel competed in the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games as a representative for the United States.

New VDC release: John Baumhackl

Veteran Documentary Corps: John Baumhackl from Documentary Film Institute on Vimeo.

DocFilm and the Veteran Documentary Corps is excited to announce the release of their newest film about Vietnam War veteran, John Baumhackl. Drafted in January 1969 John was originally sent to the 58th Signal Battalion at Fort Lewis Washington, but then quickly volunteered for a deployment to Vietnam. Upon his arrival in Vietnam John was reassigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry, Air Cavalry Troop, 33rd Chemical detachment. While in Vietnam John’s interests in photography and film were piqued. He amassed a collection of 35mm slides, and was able to shoot 8mm footage with a camera he purchased from the military store on his base. John has found a renewed interest in sharing this footage and photography as his connection to fellow Vietnam veterans has grown through the emergence of social media sites and veteran forums. John enjoys engaging with the veteran community, and spends much of his free time volunteering for the VA in San Francisco. He believes in the healing power of sharing experiences and stories with the veteran communities. After watching the final film, John commented on the use of his footage, “I watched the film and it was great! A very good job, and your use of film and pictures were excellent.”

“Like all of the films produced by the Veteran Documentary Corps the collaborative process is an important one- the team worked seamlessly with John, said Michael A. Behrens, Director of the DocFilm Institute and VDC Producer. Director and Iraq War vet Adan Pulido and VDC Production Manager Robert Barbarino echoed, “It was both a privilege and a challenge to sift through John’s large collection of important photos and 8mm footage.” Robert said, “John’s collection is such an integral part of his story and experience in Vietnam- it was important for us to incorporate his footage in a way that gives the general public access to John’s memories and experiences in Vietnam. It was a privilege to have access to John’s footage. It allowed us as filmmakers to help meet VDC’s goal of ‘facilitating a greater understanding of the diverse personalities, struggles, and successes that define the veteran experience.”

You can enjoy John’s film at the Veteran Documentary Corps website: Next month VDC filmmaker David Washburn’s film on Tian Soepengat, a Muslim Navy Reservist will be up on the site. Keep checking the site for updates!

Donate today; we can’t do it without you!


May 6, 2014
By Taylor LoNigro

On behalf of DocFilm and the entire VDC team, we want to thank you for attending the February 11 Veteran Documentary Corps premiere. The evening was a great success. Veterans and filmmakers alike had an amazing time.  Your support means a great deal to us all at VDC; we can’t fulfill our mission to tell veterans’ stories without you.

The VDC team has also released all the documentaries you enjoyed at the Castro Theatre on our website and on the Pentagon Channel.

As you all know, VDC currently depends on donations to tell each veteran’s story. A very generous donor has offered to match your gift, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000.  Gifts are 100% tax deductible. More than 90% of your contribution goes towards film production costs. With your help, we will reach our $10,000 goal.

A gift of $100, $$250, $500 or more will enable us to attain our 2014 goal of producing one story per month. Our next subject is Katrina Rodriguez, a Native American serving in the United States Navy. Katrina, is a mother of two children, and is deeply involved in her community of fellow veterans. If you give at the $250 level or above over the next three weeks, we will send you a DVD copy of the February 11 event!

Again, we thank you for your support and look forward to seeing you at future events.

Please make a donation today by following the easy steps below.

By Check:

Make your check out to:  Documentary Film Institute and mail it to:

C/O of Documentary Film Institute
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Avenue FA 234
San Francisco, CA 94129

By Credit Card:

Visit this link: select the credit card option and then choose DocFilm in the scroll down menu under the Outreach + Special Initiatives section on the San Francisco State University donor page and Choose Veteran Documentary Corps.  If you have any trouble at all, please call 415.405.3753 for assistance.

Keep up to date on new films by connecting with us on Twitter, FacebookLinkedIn or on our blog.