Virtual Vet Corp illuminates veterans' experiences, struggles

Bob Hollingsworth is featured in Virtual Vet Corp, a website that will feature a series of five-minute documentaries focusing on veteran's military experience. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress

On top of the trauma of investigating heinous crimes, Bob Hollingsworth’s base was under mortar fire during his entire time in Iraq.

He estimates that his base was mortared more than 1,000 times — two to four times a day. Hollingsworth has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder that afflicts at least 20 percent of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.

“I was exposed to some of the worst and most horrific aspects of life,” Hollingsworth, an SF State cinema major, said.

No two veterans share the same story, which is why artists, journalists and filmmakers attempt to capture the essential military experience of Iraq and Afghanistan. Among these efforts is the work of SF State’s Documentary Film Institute and its ambitious project called Virtual Vet Corp, a YouTube-like website that will feature thousands of five-minute documentary profiles on veterans from all branches of the military.

Virtual Vet Corp is the brainchild of SF State cinema department chair Daniel Bernardi. Bernardi is also a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy and serves in special operations forces.

“People should be connected to their wars,” Bernardi said. With these videos, he hopes that “citizens are able to better understand the cost of these wars through the vision of the people who fought them.”

More than 2.4 million soldiers have served in America’s two most recent wars, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The experience of veterans varies from serving on aircraft carriers, while others are Air Force pilots, Marines, Navy SEALS, Army Infantry or mechanics.

Hollingsworth served one tour in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 as a member of the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigations Command, and was tasked with investigating homicide, rape, theft, fraud and larceny along with every other crime imaginable.

“It was everything,” he said. “There was never more of one crime than the other. It was all of them — all the time.”

After producing at least 10 of these veteran profiles, Bernardi plans to pitch them to the Department of Veteran Affairs with the intention of securing more funds to see his vision through. He also hopes that other filmmakers will be inspired to direct their own portraits of vets to contribute to the project.

“I want (Martin) Scorsese to do one,” Bernardi said. “And I want academic filmmakers, too.”

Hollingsworth lent his story to Virtual Vet Corp after hearing about it from a friend. He hopes that his story will provide an example for other veterans that they are not alone.

“Maybe (other veterans) seeing me going to school will encourage them to do something positive,” he said. “Hopefully it encourages them to come out more and talk, seek help and let them know there’s options.”

Overall, Virtual Vet Corp is about instilling hope and understanding of the harrowing situation that many returning veterans face when they come home. Each video will also be meta-tagged with terms like Iraq, Navy, Infantry, female and other terms so veterans can search by keyword for other veterans’ videos with similar experiences.

“Their third act isn’t complete,” Adan Pulido, line producer and SF State graduate, said. “The story of these veterans doesn’t end when they come home.”

Pulido’s involvement in Virtual Vet Corp is just as personal as Bernardi’s or Hollingsworth’s. He served two tours in Iraq as a Marine in 2004 and 2005. After serving, Pulido wanted to study cinema at SF State for a very specific reason.

“I want to tell the stories of the Marines I served with,” he said. “Everyone’s story is individual, and it’s all a part of a big story. And we need to tell it.”

With only two completed profiles, the Virtual Vet Corp website is far from finished. The team is currently filming two more profiles, and the two already completed pieces will be showcased at the inaugural San Francisco Veterans Film Festival Oct. 20 at the SF War Memorial and Performing Arts Center. Check out the art center’s website for updates.

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