‘USS Indianapolis: The Legacy’ to make West Coast debut

USS Indianapolis
( / “USS Indianapolis: The Legacy” filmmakers)

After 15 years in the works, “USS Indianapolis: The Legacy” is finally making its West Coast debut during the second annual GI Film Festival San Diego. The film was directed and produced by San Diego’s Sara Vladic and Melanie Capacia Johnson.

“This story should be shared with the world,” Johnson said.

“USS Indianapolis: The Legacy” opens GI Film Festival San Diego Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. The Sept. 14-18 festival brings the stories of America’s military to life through film.

The film tells the fate of the Navy’s 5th Fleet’s flagship in WWII, including delivering an atomic bomb and the devastating torpedo attack that killed three-fourths of the crew.

“The story is so great,” Johnson said. “There’s this plethora of information that nobody’s really heard before.”

Although the story has been told before, from Dan Kurzman’s 1990 book, “Fatal Voyage,” to the 1991 made-for-TV movie, “The Mission of the Shark,” the film gives a much more detailed account, Johnson said. The documentary draws on interviews with more than 100 survivors, including exclusive first-person accounts, rare WWII footage and a collection of previously unpublished photographs. There are now only 23 survivors, ranging in age between 89 and 94, Johnson said.

“We’ve got something out there that we know the survivors are very happy about and very thankful for,” Johnson said. “Getting their stamp of approval and their families’ stamp of approval is a huge honor.”

Johnson, who currently lives in Oceanside, grew up in Rancho Peñasquitos, attended Mt. Carmel High School, and studied film at San Diego State University.

From news and documentary films to episodic and live events, she went on to work with MTV, VH1, Spike and other cable television networks. Johnson, who has also worked on a variety of independent feature films, is also the co-founder and managing partner of Tiny Horse, a Los Angeles-based company that creates custom teams for television shows, networks and brands.

Johnson partnered with Vladic on the film about eight years ago. Vladic, who has been working on the film for 15 years, had been drawn to the story of the USS Indianapolis since she was a young girl growing up in San Diego.

“She has so much passion for the project,” Johnson said. “I’m blessed to be a part of this journey with her.”

The documentary was completed last year. A book will be released next year. Vladic and Johnson are also working on a miniseries.

“There were these great men that did these great things and scarified a lot in order to provide us with the freedom that we have,” Johnson said. “We should not forget that.”

“USS Indianapolis: The Legacy” premiered at the GI Film Festival in Washington, D.C. during Memorial Day weekend.

Although tickets to the opening night screening of the film during GI Film Festival San Diego have already sold out, tickets are still available for an encore screening at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, at UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center.

For more about GI Film Festival San Diego, visit gifilmfestivalsd.org.