“This One Step,” a five-minute film directed by Del Mar-based sisters Austin and Westin Ray, will be included in this year’s GI Film Festival, taking place at multiple San Diego venues from Sept. 24-29.
The film is about a veteran named Travis (A.J. Johnston) and his wife Ava (Catherine Mersereau) learning to reconnect as he copes with post-traumatic stress and adjusts to life with one leg, while she tries to be as supportive as possible. Austin and Westin Ray said they wanted to show the struggles veterans and their loved ones face, which often involve unsung acts of bravery, perseverance and patience.
“I think that it’s really important to also show the struggles and challenges faced by the spouse,” said Austin, adding that she and her sister are typically drawn to stories about people who have endured a trying experience and “come out the other end.”
Johnston, who had no acting experience prior to joining the cast, spent four years in the military and served one year on tour in Afghanistan. He is an amputee and lives in Texas, where the movie was filmed. Westin found him on Instragram, where he promotes his music and posts frequently about his family, fitness and the military. They said Johnston’s acting inexperience wasn’t a deterrent. His role was largely nonspeaking, and he was paired with Mersereau, an experienced actor who has appeared in multiple short films.
Westin, who wrote the script, said she researched the trials and tribulations many veterans face when they return home. The film depicts a series of small moments between Ava and Travis, such as hiking in the woods and dancing in their kitchen, that help them reclaim a sense of normalcy in their relationship.
“There were little things that stayed with me that I put into the script,” Westin said, adding that the small moments “are what you need to get through that experience.”
The Rays have been recognized for their narrative films and branded content with awards from the Austin and Savannah film festivals, among others.
“This One Step” will be screened on Sept. 27 at the Museum of Photographic Arts during the GI Film Festival’s Drama Block, which begins at 6:15 p.m. and includes 104 minutes of short films made by or starring veterans.
Screenings for the fifth annual GI Film Festival will be held at the Museum of Photographic Arts, Parq Event Center, UltraStar Cinemas at Hazard Center and the U.S.S. Midway Museum. For more information and tickets, visit gifilmfestivalsd.org.