Monday, December 22, 2008

Nearing Year End

Christmas is this week. I'm still in shock that the year has gone by so quickly. I suppose that's what happens when you're working on a project you enjoy this much! There is so much more work to be done, and time just keeps slipping away each day.

Today I did a wee bit of Christmas shopping on my lunch break. Over at Southeastern Camera, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. There's so much to drool over in the store, and every time I go in there's the chance to catch up with my friends that work there. They are so kind and helpful. Today they gave me about half a dozen fresh Florida oranges for free! (For those of you who know me well, you know that is a bit of heaven. Oranges are one of my favorite foods, and I do love something free as well!)

While I was in the store, I ran into one of the guys I met while working on my film. His name is Alex, and he's a local photographer and friend of many of the folks I know in the Montagnard community. We shot a Montagnard-American wedding over the summer. He asked how the film was coming along and told me about some of the projects he is working on. We talked shop a little while and caught up. It was delightful to see a smiling face that I had not seen in so many months. This project has introduced me to some of the finest people, and I am so grateful for that.

As the holidays draw near, and I spend more and more time with family, I realize how much I have learned from the Montagnard culture in the past year. The cultural traditions that keep the family close together, serving and supporting one another, and holding each other accountable as a community are so valuable.

The Montagnards as a whole have faced great adversity, and have done so much to smile in the face of trouble. I reflect on a line from Louis L'Amour that has stuck with me for years, as he wrote about the cowboys he met and studied. He talked about how hard they worked, how they suffered, and coped with changing times. In the midst of it all, they shared this one common trait in his opinion: dignity. No matter what they had seen, they all shared a quiet dignity about them.

Many of the Montagnards I have met over the past year have been the leaders in their community. Many of the servicemen and experts on the Montagnard culture are leaders in their community. And each person that has sat down with me, in front of my camera, to share their story has had this same quiet dignity.

Leadership is not something you can learn by attending Harvard, Stanford or Yale. It is something that must be earned and learned. Education and experience that go hand in hand to shape a great leader. It is something that rests deep inside one and grows from that core when nurtured or forced by necessity. Leadership is an ever-changing shape that can be at one moment tougher than titanium or at another moment very calm and serene. A pent up energy that may be released when provoked. In short, the lion and the lamb all in one.

These men with whom I have spoken are fascinating to me. They are great leaders, yet humble in every way. They are strong and proud, but not loud and boastful--that difference is very important to note. They are the heroes of our time, and yet they walk among us each day.

As we near the end of a year, I hope to spend more time reflecting on 2008--the year that permitted me to finally rise out of the dreamer's resting post and run towards the dream. As we race faster towards welcoming a new day, a new January 1st, I hope to spend more time sketching out the upcoming days, months and year. One thing is for certain, it will be one wild adventure!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chicago Recap, Part II

Is it just me, or is time passing entirely too quickly? How is it that Christmas is just days away? Craziness. Well, I promised a second recap to my Chicago trip, and here it is for your reading pleasure!

I last left you with details of my delightful interview with Dr. Hickey on Friday, December 5th. That evening, Katie and Clayton took me to see more improv (specifically one of our friends from ComedyWorx, Jorin and his team). Without further ado, here's the rest of the weekend!

On Friday, my host and hostess spent some time with me chatting about what we would do with our free day. It was the last day I would be in town to do anything, and we could spend it anyway we wanted to have fun. We planned to spend some time improvising some short films, and possibly do some photo shoots. Two things I would have loved to do with them. Honestly, I had completed the major task, and was so blissfully free of worry that I was up for anything they offered.

But instead of filming short movies or shooting portraits, I slept away the majority of the day! Katie had an actor's workshop that morning, which lasted until early afternoon. By the time she returned to their apartment, I had only been out of bed for about 1/2 an hour! It's the first time I've done that in a really long time. It was much needed rest, I assure you of that!

The entire day was full of fun. Clayton took me to meet some of his friends, who lived just down the street. Lucy was one of our kind hostesses, and she made us freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. We sat together in the kitchen as she baked, and it reminded me of living with the Latta girls. Spontaneous gatherings that end up being unforgettable evenings. This was one of them.

After the cookies, we went back to Clayton's and met up with Katie. We got ready for the evening, and then went to meet Lucy and her group for a traditional Senegalese dinner. Her friends had studied abroad, and taught us the traditional dinner and the role played by the "mother" who helps everyone eat from the same plate. It was really fascinating to learn the cultural norms. They let me take a few pictures.

From dinner, we went on to see some more improv. It's amazing what improv has taught me: reading body language, the art of story telling, rules of comedy, subtext in conversations, and more. It's helped introduce me to so many amazing people. In a few's a very big part of who I am and what I enjoy.

That night Katie and I went to another theatre, a nonprofit. We saw three groups perform, two of which were musical acts. I rather enjoyed it, and saw so many familiar faces! After the show we joined up with Clayton at a party not too far away. What an incredible night. We headed home in the wee hours of the morning, and even stopped for a snow ball fight.

The entire day was unscripted, and delightfully so. So many aspects of my life are so planned and timed that the day was a much appreciated time for tagging along. Clayton and Katie were both very kind to let me join them, show me around the city, and introduce me to so many new friends.

I confess I was sad to see Sunday come around. I have loved Chicago for so long, and each time I visit I have more and more fun. But, I woke with purpose that morning, as there is much work to be done and what feels like very little time to complete it. With each month that passes, I grow more and more anxious to share this story with everyone.

Katie had a second day at her workshop, and left early that morning. We chatted a bit before she left, and laughed about the weekend. I packed my bags, hoping that they wouldn't be over the weight limit when I got to Midway. With two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, scarf, hat, new down coat, and ski gloves on I hugged Clayton good-bye and walked out into the brisk air.

With the two cases buckled together, I pulled them down the street a few blocks to the train station. With directions on my Blackberry, I easily found my way back to the airport, working up a sweat on the way from lugging the equipment.

With each step I took, I fell further and further into thoughts about the movie. What had Dr. Hickey shared that we had not previously filmed? In what order should I tell the story so that we can keep it moving along at a reasonable pace? Should it be told chronologically or start with present day? What images and graphics will I use to keep it visually interesting for our audiences?

I was so lost in thought that I got in the wrong line at the terminal. The Southwest Airlines woman looked at my ticket, frowned, and threw her index finger up to point me to another very long line. "You have to go to the back of that line," she growled.

Sighing, I smiled and walked away. While in the new line, I kept my head down, staring at my Blackberry (half embarrased that I had been in the wrong line, and half annoyed that I now had to be the last person to board the plane because I hadn't been paying attention).

A quiet and kind voice said, "I like your bottle opener."

I turned around to say thank you, and through polite conversation I found out that an NCSU professor of communications was standing behind me. The key chain bottle opener my friend Astra had given me years earlier proved to be quite a conversation starter. I confessed that I had been staying with Carolina fans all weekend, and she smirked.

"Did you tell them who won the last game?!" she grinned.

"No, I held my tongue and resisted shouting 41-10!" we both laughed a little too loud. The Southwest Airlines ticket taker frowned at me again, almost as if to tell me to get out of town. I smiled at her again. The weekend had been so fun, so full of friendly people, that she wasn't about to negatively affect my mood.

My new friend and I sat together through the flight, and shared many stories. We turned out to be kindred spirits, and I'm so thankful for her company. We sat on the tarmack for almost 45 minutes, and saw lots of smoke coming from the engines out the window. The smell of smoke filled the cabin, and led many of us to think the worst. I've been flying my entire life, and have never thought twice about any crash landings until that day. It made me realize how much I take safe travel for granted.

We skidded around so much in our landing at RDU that I thought I might not see the day this film reached completion. Thoughts of someone else debuting the film immediately rushed through my head, and angrily I decided that this was simply not going to happen because I was not giving it away that easily! This was my project to see through the end!

The second I had that thought, almost as if on cue, the plane righted itself on the tarmack. We taxied over to the terminal and were within moments walking through RDU. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief to have our feet safely on the floor of the terminal. My new friend and I parted ways, and a few moments later I made it to the baggage claim area. Spotting my two heavy pieces, I swiped them off the belt with ease. Finally! They seemed so light, having carried them around all weekend!

My smiling sister and brother-in-law walked towards me as I looked up. Warm hugs were shared, and my load immediately lightened. What a joy to have helping hands escort me home. They have been so kind and helpful with this project! When they delivered me to my little home, my dog was even there waiting for me.

All in all, the weekend could not have been more perfect. It was one of those weekends that you see from a film and think, "Does anyone really live that way?" Yes, indeed, folks. There are moments of one's life that are absolutely this dreamy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chicago Recap

It's Wednesday, and I returned from Chicago on Sunday. It's still hard to believe I was just up there, and what an incredible trip I had. The entire trip was just unforgettable. Here's a recap!

On Thursday I left for RDU around 8am, thanks to my sister who gave me a ride to the airport. She saved us lots of money on parking, for which I am very thankful. When I got to the check-in counter, I was told that my large suitcase (carrying my camera, lights and tripod) was about five pounds overweight. So, in front of everyone in line I had to find a way to ditch some weight. Eventually my bags were checked and I was on the way to the security check point. There's something both degrading and equalizing about going through security.

A few hours later, I arrived in Chicago. The flight wasn't full and was thankfully uneventful. I casually gathered my bags, reorganized them a bit, and began transitioning to being in the big city! Katie had sent me directions via Facebook, which I had on my Blackberry. So taking public transportation to their place was a breeze (although pulling 100+ pounds of equipment through the snow and ice was tough!). By the time I got to Clayton and Katie's place, I was winded and freezing! I'm sure I was a site to see in my pitifully light peacoat.

Clayton and I spent some time catching up and playing some Wii games, then he walked me down to a place called Potbelly Sandwich Works. We had lunch/dinner there and then walked over to Uncle Dan's to buy some winter clothes, per Clayton's recommendation (for which I am incredibly grateful). I bought a knee-length down coat there (like this one shown), which helped me survive the frigid weather throughout the weekend.

We went back to their place and caught up with Katie later that evening. With lots of great conversations about their adventure moving from Raleigh to Chicago, the ease of travel and excitement/anticipation of the interview the next day, Thursday was just wonderful.

We went to iO Chicago that night to see some friends perform on a team called The Lindbergh Babies 2.0. It was so great to be in the theater again, especially to see so many familiar faces! On the way home that night, I don't think I could have been more grateful for that coat I bought and the journey I was taking.

By habit, I woke up fairly early Friday morning. Katie had already left for work, so I quietly packed and left for the interview so I wouldn't wake up Clayton. My phone didn't change to the new time (Chicago's an hour ahead of Raleigh), so all morning I was incredibly nervous about making it to the interview on time.

Since I'd left too early to go straight to Dr. Hickey's (on purpose) I spent a few hours at a small table at a dessert store, reading and preparing for the interview. The people running the store were so friendly and funny. They gave me a hard time about carrying so much luggage, and sternly told me I should move to Chicago as soon as possible!

While there, I reread key passages from Dr. Hickey's books, reviewed my notes and questions, and contemplated how the afternoon would pan out. I like to take the time to be sure I'm of the right mindset before I get started, so that AM prep time was critical. However, the time quickly passed and I found myself out on the sidewalk again, heading to a spot where I could find a cab a little easier. Dr. Hickey's place was only about five miles away from my present location, but my weak little arms were about to give out!

While walking down the street, a chilling wind stirred and I adjusted my coat and scarf to keep warm. Looking up again, I nodded at a gentleman doing the very same as if to say, "Yeah, it's cold out here!" We made eye contact, and he smiled as he passed. Then a second after he had passed, I thought to myself, "I know that smile. How do I know him?" It then hit me that I had just nodded and smiled at Tim Meadows. He's now performing at iO, which was just a few blocks away from where we were. Quite ironic that I should pass him on the street, no?!

I immediately turned around to see if it was him, in sort of a double take fashion. But, it being so cold outside, everyone starts to look the same from behind. Nothing but coats with hoods walking along the sidewalk, unless you see someone coming towards you as I just had.

When I got down the block a bit, I stopped at a fairly busy intersection, and within a few minutes a cab beeped at me to see if I wanted a ride. One great thing about lugging that bag? Cabbies spot you quickly because they think you're heading to the airport! I gratefully handed over the bag to let him put it in the trunk and sort of fell into the back seat, stripping off the extra layers that had just brought me so much warmth in the cold wind. Out of breath, I gave him the address and we were quickly on our way to the downtown Chicago apartment.

We had an interesting conversation en route about religion and the differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs. The Pakistani driver told me he was studying the Qur'an, and even cited some of what he had memorized. He was trying to memorize the entire thing, despite not being fluent in Arabic. I patiently and curiously listened as we steadily cruised down Lake Shore Drive. When we came to a stoplight, he stopped speaking and must have read my thoughts because he excitedly said, "It sounds more like singing, doesn't it?"

The conversation lasted all the way to the door of the apartment building, and continued even as he unpacked the car. I think the only pause was when he struggled to lift the bag from the trunk! (I was glad to know he struggled a bit, purely because it made me feel less like a weakling.) I paid him, and scurried up to the lobby, pressing the button for Dr. Hickey's room.

A man answered, and upon telling him that I was there the door buzzed and I went up a few stairs to the elevator to meet him. The second the elevator doors opened, I spotted him there waiting at the door in front of me with a kind, warm smile.

He let me in, and we chatted as I unpacked the film equipment. We spotted a corner of the room to use as a backdrop, and he kindly let me rearrange his living room to set up two chairs, two lights and the camera. He asked about the others we had interviewed, and what I had learned along the way.

I told him about Mike Benge, Greg Stock and Roger Donlon. I probably sounded like a groupie confessing how much I had enjoyed reading his books. Now that I think about it, I have been incredibly lucky to speak with so many published authors. So many of the people we have interviewed have written accounts of their adventures and what they have learned. Dr. Hickey is an anthropologist who has published his findings on the Montagnards, and the two books I have read are so eloquent and informative. Everyone with whom I have spoken on this subject identifies him as the expert I need to know. Because of the work Surry has done, people have been willing to speak with me. It is clear that the respect they have for him washes over on to me, which is much like an unexpected embrace.

It ocurred to me on Friday, as I knelt to plug in the lights and listened to Dr. Hickey sitting behind me, that some authors have a strong voice in print but not in real life. Dr. Hickey is the rare type of author who speaks as well as he writes. And when he speaks, you delight in hearing what wisdom he will impart upon you. Like so many of these experts, he kindly corrects me when I make a statement that could be misinterpreted! I feel so thankful to be surrounded by experts dedicated to making sure that what we share is factual.

The interview was just wonderful. Dr. Hickey was very hospitable, and even offered to serve me tea after the interview concluded. We sat and talked even more about the state of our nation, about all the talk of change and whether or not it will actually happen, and how many folks might be too focused on the economy to care about the war in Iraq, much less what's happening today in Vietnam. He understands the reality of asking DC to change. He's tried it for years, as have all of these others with whom I've spoken.

While I know this reality well, I find that the eternal optimist in me is defiant and difficult to quiet. In the past year, I have studied social media and I have heard people like Jim Tobin tell us that social media gives a voice to everyone. While I'm certainly not the social media expert like Tobin, I do know that this feels like a new era, where big companies can no longer ignore the individual. A time where the government absolutely must listen to each citizen who speaks up. A time where we--as a nation--can once again converse and move as a group. We're not just individuals, we can move together as one tribe like we did in the beginning. It is fascinating to me!

Dr. Hickey and I wrapped up our conversation, and then I began to pack up the equipment. He complimented my skills at fitting so much into one small bag. "It's a gift my grandfather gave me before he passed away," I told him. We then chatted about how so many people in my family served in WWII, a conversation that led to genealogy. He has been researching his family history, and told me that they had been in Chicago for quite some time. Once again, I was so thankful for my grandmother's hard work in discovering and recording our family history. It has become so much of who I am, knowing my family history.

Dr. Hickey helped me hail a cab, and before I knew it he was wishing me luck and I was on my way back to Clayton and Katie's apartment.

That evening we went out to dinner, and then went to see some more improv at the American Theater Company. We watched two teams perform that night, one of which was Pudding Thank You. Pictures I took are here if you wish to see them! The team consists of Jorin Garguilo, Louis Saunders, Adal Rifai, and Ryan Patrick Dolan.

Jorin is an old ComedyWorx player, who has worked hard to help bring Chicago folks to North Carolina. Because of Jorin's help in setting up an annual improv invitational here in Raleigh, I recognized so many familiar faces while I was in Chicago. I'm incredibly grateful for what he's done to strengthen the community. It's a great feeling to recognize so many faces when I visit, and I know that is because of him. Plus, he's a fun, generous improviser to watch, too. Jorin and Adal recently played with my team Temporary Tag, and it was an unforgettable night--they both are incredibly talented performers. (Hope they don't mind the shout out!)

More on the past weekend to come soon! I still have to tell you about Saturday and Sunday, and already I have rambled on long enough for one post. Stay tuned...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Weekend Recap is Coming

Last night I returned from Chicago. My sister and brother-in-law picked me up at RDU, and dropped me off at home. My little pup was there waiting for me, too!

I've spent today resting up, not realizing how completely exhausted I really was from such an incredible weekend. Fearing a relapse of any illness (having had mono over the summer/fall), I'm much more conscious of not going faster than I can physically handle. Not only was I not used to the weather, I wasn't used to carrying 100+ pounds of filmming equipment through the snow! Quite a task to do by yourself, but today I recognized that my arms are much stronger than they were last week. Reminds me of all the boot camp training I've been reading about: struggling while carrying more than one can imagine, and then one day realizing how strong you have become as a result. Not to mention how tied to that equipment you are; knowing you rely on it, protect it and keep it working well. That equipment becomes an extension of yourself in a way.

For four days, I've been in filmmaker mode. Playing the film in my head repeatedly, obsessing over getting the materials I must have to tell the story well, mapping out the post-production schedule to get everything completed, and curious about whether I'll be able to meet my self-imposed deadlines. Yes, it is tough to compartmentalize or quiet those thoughts in order to return to work. And I love my full time job, so I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be if I only had a position that paid the bills instead of one that speaks to my passion as this one does.

I'm very happy that I gave myself a day to rest before going back to work so that I can go in tomorrow with a clear mind. It's tough to switch your state of mind from filmmaker to full time employee, but now that I am back home and readjusted I think I can go in tomorrow ready to work. Hopefully soon I can write a more complete summary of the past few days, so that I'll have them documented.

As I told Surry, I've had to pinch myself lately because this feels too much like a dream. How is it possible that I have been lucky enough to work on a project like this one, meet the fine people that I have been introduced to, and sit down to tea with a man like Dr. Hickey to discuss the state of our nation and politics. I have grown fond of this position, one in which I am allowed access to great minds, respected leaders, and real heroes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Final Call

Whew! The past few days have gone by too quickly. I've been preparing for tomorrow's departure with feverish efforts. Thankfully, Southwest Airlines does not charge for the first or second checked bag.

I'm finding it tough to pack for a flight with the equipment. Hopefully I won't get to the counter to find out that it's over the weight limit. This is the minutia we face to get things done, no!? I'm going to have to sacrifice on clothes in order to make sure the equipment gets there!

On a more serious note, this trip has helped me recognize many things:
  • Filming locally has been a luxury, and is incredibly convenient
  • Traveling to film (while I definitely enjoy it) requires more resources: vacation time from my full time job, funds to travel (or in this case, credit), energy to get to the location and set everything up, etc.
  • Having a production assistant or director of photography is a luxury I hope to have on the next project
  • Surry, family, friends, interviewees and the team of volunteers make up one incredible collaborative effort; there's not a day that goes by that I am not thankful for that help
  • I'm growing more anxious to share the finished film, and check my patience regularly
  • The need to be so familiar with your equipment that it is an extension of yourself is as true for moving pictures as it is for still photography; and mirrors that of a soldier and his equipment
There is little time to write a great deal of deep thoughts at the moment. I still have to get a few more affairs in order before I fly tomorrow. We are in the home stretch now, though, with this interview this week and hopefully another one in the coming month. I see the film playing in my mind regularly, and am desperate to see it come together.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Finalizing Plans

I just got off the phone with Dr. Hickey, and confirmed our interview time for this Friday afternoon. My flight plans are in order. And I'm staying with friends who just recently moved to Chicago. There's much more work to be done in the coming days, but things are shaping up quite nicely right now. I'm excited about the journey.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Next week I will interview Dr. Hickey in Chicago. I cannot express how excited I am about this interview. There is much work to be done in the coming days, and even more work to be done when I return.

The blog posts may be few and far between, but that merely means I am working hard! However, I have been making updates via text (from my phone) that are sent directly to my Twitter account. When I travel next week, that will be a great way to follow me on the adventure! Visit here to keep track:\cammicam.

This film about the Montagnards has such great potential, and I am looking forward to piecing it all together in the coming months!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Full Day of Filming

What an incredible day. My sister and I were so exhausted Friday night that we crashed really early. I think I fell asleep seconds after we turned out the lights. Because we went to sleep so early, I was wide awake by 7am. It was actually kind of nice to wake up naturally, having rested so well.

By 8am, we were on the road to Mike's place for the interviews. We stopped to pick up some breakfast (most importantly coffee), and were on our way. He lived just minutes from the hotel, so we got there in no time. Mike met us downstairs and helped us carry up my equipment.

With two of us working, the camera and lights were ready to go fairly quickly. My sister (Adger) left when we had it all set up, and headed to Ikea to go shopping. I have been SO thankful to have her here with me. Not only is she incredibly generous, but she's one of the best travel companions a person could ask for on the road. She has been absolutely essential to the success of this weekend's filming, running errands and helping at every turn.

Mike and I sat down to chat for a bit since we were ahead of schedule. I asked him to show me some of the articles and photos he had mentioned previously. He pulled out a notebook full of articles he's written about the Montagnards and what's still happening in Vietnam. His dedication is unfailing, and his knowledge has been so valueable in my quest for understanding. The same is absolutely true for Greg, who has shared insights about what's happening today and helping me understand the politics of the situation. Both are committed to making a difference for the Montagnards, and continuing to help them learn how to make things better for themselves.

Both interviews concluded by 6pm. A long, very productive day I believe. It was incredibly helpful to sit down with Mike and Greg a second time. Today really helped solidify so much of this information, and I feel like I have come a long way since the beginning of the project. Each day presents learning opportunities, and I am enjoying every minute of it. Without going into too much detail since I'm quite tired, I'll simply say that I believe whole heartedly that this is where I am meant to be, and a project that I am meant to be working on.

At one point during the day, we chatted about why this information is not more public. It was an incredibly interesting topic, which oddly turned to a conversation about social media. We talked about how our nation is changing, specifically how our attention spans are shortened. For having obessively studied social media and how it's changing how we get our information, it was rather refreshing to have someone else bring it up in conversation!

I'm back at the hotel now, scanning in copies of Mike's articles and some photos he's loaned me. We'll return them to him tomorrow, and then hit the road early. I had hoped to capture footage of the building where the U.S. Department of State resides, the White House and other DC landmarks. However, I tentatively have plans to return to DC in December for another interview. At that time, I could capture more b roll.

There is much work to be done. This weekend feels like a great step forward, which is absolutely delightful. I'm finally over being sick, and finally moving forward full speed ahead again. AND, I feel like the film is taking shape in my head and I'm so anxious to edit it together.

It shall be done!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ready for Sleep!

What a long, delightfully exhausting day.

Woke up around 4:15 and finally left Raleigh at about 6am. Arrived in DC safely and started filming at Arlington National Cemetery. Then filmed the Vietnam War Memorial and other key landmarks. Finally back to the hotel around 6pm, and completely wiped out. Relaxing just a bit before preparing for tomorrow's interviews and then crashing early tonight. Weather wasn't great, but it held out beautifully. The fall leaves against the darkness of the trees was stunning. A great day for taking still photos. I can't wait to review the footage.

Also, if you care to follow us on the trip, I'll be texting updates here:\cammicam! I can also upload photos taken with my cell phone to my Facebook profile, so if you're on there friend me and view photos I upload instantly! Here are a few nevertheless!
Kennedy Center

Washington Monument

I made blueberries on Thursday so we could have something yummy for breakfast. We gave two to ladies at a ticket booth later that day, and they were so happy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

15 Minutes Goes a Long Way

So, I've been blogging here and sending updates via Twitter to my Facebook page. Social media is absolutely impacting how this film is made, and it is fascinating to experience. I have been sending out messages about this project at various times to (1) help me record the process and (2) share where we are with those that want to know more about it.

If you're not familiar with it, Twitter is a website where you can send out short messages. I've started following a lot of people I may never have met in real life, one of which is Leandra Ganko (@tlkativ) in Durham, N.C. Yesterday was Veteran's day and she posted a message about her father who served in Vietnam that said, "Dad, thanks for risking your life flying over hostile territories to save the lives of our soldiers on the ground in Vietnam. I love you."

So, I sent her a message (Twitter limits you to 140 characters), asking her if her dad new the Montagnards, and told her about the project. She told her dad. Her dad told her to tell me to call Col. John Hope who works with the River Rats. I called him over lunch today. He told me to speak to Mike Benge. He also shared that they were having an event on the 18th in the DC area, where a lot of folks would get together and tell war stories. In 15 hours, two new friends were made and in 15 minutes I learned a quick overview of the amazing work the River Rats are doing. And, let me tell you, it's heart warming.

The River Rats, officially known as the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots, were formed to help the families of those who served (like with education scholarships). Their sister organization, the Air Warrior Courage Foundation, also does equally amazing things for the families of vets. It sounds like a great group, one I'd like to learn more about once we get things in gear with this film.

Also in relation to social media, two old friends from high school connected with me on Facebook this week. One of them is a filmmaker, who just shared a music video he made. Another is a talent manager in the entertainment industry, managing an artist he thinks might have something to offer a future project.

Social media is definitely impacting the way this film is made, and while some people still aren't convinced it's worth their time, I can easily see how it's going to make this film impact people's lives. The folks I have met through this project continue to amaze me, and I hope I can do for them what they are doing for this project.

My time before the trip to DC is dwindling, and as I grow closer to our oh-dark-thirty departure, I get more and more excited. My sister has agreed to join me on the trip, which has put me at ease greatly. On Friday we'll capture footage in the city and on Saturday I'll sit down with Mike Benge and Greg Stock again to talk with them on camera.

Should the weather hold out for us, it promises to be a memorable weekend in my life and in the life of this project. We are moving ahead in excellence, and I am eager to start post-production once we conclude our filming.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Final Plans Taking Shape

Well, final plans are coming together for my trip. I'm getting lots of contacts and information on where to go and what to do while I'm there. This will be a short trip, but I plan on squeezing as much out of it as I possibly can.

My friends laughingly call me a Planner, but I am flexible when things don't go according to plan. Perhaps, instead, I am a Preparer. Better to be prepared with all of the information than not when the opportunities arrive, I believe.

Anywhooo, I leave at 0-dark-thirty on Friday morning and have a full weekend of hustle and bustle when I arrive in VA/DC. Much to do, little time to do it. Maximum efficiency is a must for this trip. But I also have to remember to be kind to myself so I don't have a relapse...I think if I get sick one more time, I will not handle it with any patience.

Greg and Mike and I are all preparing for our interviews, a fact I am most excited about.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Weekend in D.C.

Next Friday I leave for D.C., and I am so excited. I love to travel, especially when it is to interview people like Mike Benge and Greg Stock. Mike and Greg are top notch folks, very helpful in my quest for the truth about the Montagnard plight.

My travel and interview plans are coming together, and I have just booked my hotel room. I am able to leave town next weekend with many thanks to the help of my sister and brother in law who have offered to watch my pitt-lab mix Louie. He's more than a handful, and it's great to know that he'll be in very capable hands. This dog has such strength, and he can knock you over in a heartbeat. He has taught me a great deal about life.

With Louie in good hands, I'll be leaving for D.C. on Friday. After I check in, I'll head into the city to capture footage of the city and related memorials. On Saturday, I'll head over to meet Mike and Greg for our second interviews. I feel like I have learned an incredible amount since I first met them this summer. In the days leading up to our interview, I have been reading and studying as much as possible so that I'm better prepared. The filmmaker in me recognizes that it is imperative you make the most of your time with together so you can interview effectively. Not only do you want to build a trusting relationship with the people you interview, you also recognize that time is money--and the more time you spend, the more money it takes to make the film (and so on). So, with each interview, I have felt a great sense of pressure to make the most of each of them. I'm actually getting a bit of a ritual down now as well.

This project has been so...unbelieveable. Seriously, I some times can't believe how lucky I am to be working on this project. I care so much about making this film, each of the people that I have met because of it, and sharing these stories with others. Each interviewee has taught me so much about dignity, hope, strength, honor, pride, trust and love. The entire process has helped me grow so much, and the subject matter is something I will care about for the rest of my life.

The other day I spoke with a fellow dreamer / filmmaker, and she told me about what was stopping her from telling the stories she had been gathering for 10 years. Like me, she was afraid that she wouldn't do them justice. She knew how important the project was, she had gotten so close to it, and she was terrified that she wouldn't be able to finish it in the manner it so rightfully deserved. It is a great weight for her to carry, it seemed.

But, that is the beauty of filmmaking. I absolutely adore the collaborative efforts it has afforded me in this short time. I have been able to meet and work with such talented, intelligent people and I know that this will grow from here. I am overjoyed at the support that has poured in from the least expected places; what a great joy.

Having just booked my hotel room, I am now off to continue preparing. There is much work to be done, many thoughts to capture, and lots of plans to continue making. I'm setting an agenda for myself so that I can accomplish all that must be done in such a short trip. Nonetheless, I can't wait to hit the road!

Photo credit:

Monday, November 3, 2008


Tomorrow is an interesting word. It has spawned many famous lines. Tomorrow never dies. Tomorrow, tomorrow, there's always tomorrow. Let us not put off to tomorrow what can be done today. Yes, this word, this idea of tomorrow, it is very powerful.

It is a romantic idea, indeed. One that leads us to hope, and gives us permission to dream of what may come. No matter how bad the present may be, we can always think on tomorrow's delight. No matter how poorly we flagged or failed today, we can always try again when the sun rises again. We know that nothing is guaranteed today but we hope like hell that we'll live to see another day--one that is, perhaps, even better than today.

What is it about tomorrow that is so addicting and fascinating? Why do we hang our hats on something that has not yet arrived?

For our country, tomorrow will be a very big day, indeed. Spare me the smear campaigns and slanderous accusations in this election--both locally and nationally. The world is watching, so let us behave like the gentlemen our founding fathers thought we should become. Let us not accept what one person shouts as truth, but seek our own answers. Let us hold our elected officials accountable for their promises while they remain in office, since they will be the face that the world sees instead of our own. Let us be this passionate about politics for the next four years they are in office!

Let tomorrow not begin fading passion about politics. Tomorrow is almost here. Tomorrow is the day the world waits to learn of our decision. Tomorrow is the day that we--once again--learn who will serve as the leader of our nation. Let us be great once again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reading, Reading, Reading

While the accounts I have been reading include very heavy subject matter, I have delighted in my reading. The accounts have hardships and moments of humor in them, and above all else they show the human condition. Last night I especially enjoyed rereading the account about Mike Benge's time as a POW in Vietnam.

Mike Benge, a man we interviewed this summer, was "an AID technician captured in the South" as it is described in the book Strange Ground by Harry Maurer. He describes the night of the Tet offensive, and how he went out the check on things the next morning. He describes the moments when he got captured:

It was ironic: The squad I got captured by was a North Vietnamese propaganda squad. And their leader--you have to imagine a North Vietnamese who really didn't have command of English trying to say, "Surrender, we will give you humane and lenient treatment." This guy had a little Hitler mustache and his hair came down in his eyes about like Hitler. It was really weird, like out of a movie. Here's this little Hitlerite guy, telling me, "Sullendah, we give you humane and renient tleatment."

His story in this book is an intense one, and I recommend you pick up a copy to learn more. He is an excellent story teller, candid and humorous. I enjoy the details he includes in his stories, like drinking coffee royals with Dr. Hickey to celebrate at his Tet party:

The Chinese firecrackers were going off, the tracers were flying. About that time an 81mm mortar landed out in front of my house. I said, "Oh, shit, Gerry, I think this is the real thing."

We were there all night long, drinking coffee royals, keeping everybody awake. Between the adrenaline of thinking you're going to get overrun and the coffee royals, we were pretty goddamn high. Nobody knew what the hell was going on.

If you want to read more about Mike Benge, here are some things I found online:
Mike and I are set for a second interview in a few weeks and I'm really looking forward to it. I have been learning so much about our film's subject matter, and exploring the three key points we want to make. It is a learning process, through and through.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lunch Break Blogging: Recovering Again

Today will be my first full day back in the office, having had a cold since the middle of last week. I keep running into folks who ask, "Haven't you been sick for a while now?" I cannot tell you how absolutely exhausted I am with being sick and tired! I've been consuming mass amounts of orange juice in hopes of getting better quickly. Thankfully, today, I feel that I am heading in that direction.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I'm sick. Again. Some how I now have a cold that has me by the throat. I've taken the day off of work to get better and plan on laying down all day. Must remember to take things slower. Every time I do try to be patient with the work, I grow ever more excited about it and want to keep working hard. It is a project that is very close to my heart, and I want to do it justice. I see how each step must be taken with the greatest integrity. It is of great importance.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Keeping On, Keeping On

Had another training at the Apple store last night. Really enjoy working with Tom. He's got a great sense of humor and is teaching me not only about the editing software, but about the art of filmmaking, too. It's one thing to teach just the software as is required, but another to share years of experience beyond what is necessary. I like it when people go above and beyond, don't you? It's a lot of fun to go in there each week and work on making this project better and better. I think we're coming to the final weeks of working on the wedding video, which makes me happy.

I'm still reading and reading and reading the transcripts. It's incredibly helpful to have the interviews in print because it helps me ingrain the messages and piece them together. What message has to come first? How do you capture your audience in the first seconds of the film, keep them interested, and then hit a climax and a quick conclusion?

You, as the story teller, help the audience care about the characters and subject matter. You have to help them care, understand, and feel what you want them to feel. The psychology of story telling is fascinating to me. I feel this story taking shape in my mind, and am so excited about sharing it with the world when the time comes. We're scanning the transcripts for important facts and powerful statements. From there, I will piece together a screenplay and we will edit it all together based on that document.

We are coordinating a few more interviews in the mean time. As of right now, it looks like I will be heading to Virginia in November and again in December for three possible interviews and some B Roll footage of the nation's capitol and Vietnam War Memorial. We still hope to interview about two others outside of those two potential trips. Details are falling into place, and that is incredibly exciting.

Until then, I will continue reading and researching!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apple Store Training

I've got another training at the Apple store tonight. The first few months were used as introductions on how to use the creative suite: motion, soundtrack, Final Cut Pro, etc. Now we're in the throws of editing my footage from the wedding I shot for the Montagnard bride this summer. I'm excited about working on it while I'm at the store because it gives us a learning tool (that's not the boring sample footage that comes with the software), and because it means I'll be able to give it to her as a gift without taking my focus away from the big picture: finishing the first draft of the film.

The transcriptions have been a huge help, too. We've sent them to the folks we interviewed in hopes of getting comments back from them to help us stay focused on the important details. With over 330 pages of transcribed content, we hope that our interviewees can help us hone in on the very important details.

Our next steps are clear: complete the rest of the transcriptions, create the first draft of the film, share that first draft, and I think everything else after that will move very quickly. My meetings last week with volunteers (Todd, Matt and Emma) were really motivating. I let them know that I'd been sick for a while, but was back in the throws of moving forward. It feels good to have their support.

Surry and I are meeting this week to catch up, and I think that will help a lot too. It's great to have someone to sit down and regroup with, to help me stay focused. There is much to be done, and I feel like we're working in the right direction. Whew! Oh, and I finally got my ticket dropped, which saves me over $100--super exciting!

A great day today, definitely. Even more good things to come!

Monday, October 13, 2008


Just got a call from the third doctor I visited last month when I wasn't feeling well. The latest report? I was recovering from mono when I saw her. Wow, September was definitely a hard month.

Thankfully, I am feeling like my old self again. We're making forward progress on this project, and that feels wonderful. Last week I had some great meetings, and I think we'll keep the forward momentum going!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Moving Midway

Last Saturday, after I returned from Fayetteville I came home to unpack my equipment. Fairly immediately I went to Durham to watch the movie Moving Midway, where the filmmakers were in attendance for a question and answer session. How divine that I could come back from interviewing Col. Donlon and immediately go to such an event.

It was a good, locally shot film. I'm excited to see that it's gotten reviews from publications like The New York Post. It was odd to see a place I had visited years go now there in front of me on the big screen, and even stranger to see people I know interviewed for the movie. I can only imagine what excitement I'll feel to see my own film in a theater. (Gasp! What excitement!)

When my friend, Chris Moore, showed his short film Hard Stapled at the All American Film Festival, it was so incredible to see it in a theater full of people and hear them laughing in unison. What a great feeling to see my friends on the screen and hearing a chorus of laughs, knowing each of the people involved in the project. You almost have to pinch yourself to believe that it's real. And then, if you're the filmmaker, celebrate because you got the reaction you'd been hoping for while working on it. You sit there working in a semi-vaccuum and it's hard to know until you screen that film if you'll get the reaction you want.

On Saturday night, I sat in the audience as Godfrey Cheshire, the writer/director/producer, and Robert Hinton, chief historian/associate producer, sat before us to answer questions. Many people asked about the race relations, the house, and why it had to be moved. They asked questions until our time was cut off, and the conversations moved into the lobby for the next screening. I felt a tinge of disappointment, mostly at myself for not asking the questions I wanted to hear answered.

Immediately I flashed back to my experience at the Kilowatt Ours second debut in Durham, where everyone wanted to talk about anything but the filmmaking process. In front of us stood Jeff Barrie, a filmmaker showing his piece of work, and not a single person asked about the process. I wanted to stand and shout, "Tell me how you did it!?"

On Saturday night, I had to remind myself that these are people there to see the film because they care about the subject matter. It's not a room full of filmmakers, or geeks like me who want to full behind-the-sceens story. And, that's a good thing. That means the film and marketing have done their jobs--brought people out to the theater to watch movie about something they want to see.

Last Saturday I didn't chat with Cheshire (people were swarming around him), but I overheard some of my questions asked by others. You can learn a lot when you listen to conversations. I heard his answers. Throughout the film, I kept wondering about the timeline. When did he start the project? How long did it take to get to this point, here, tonight, in front of this audience? Then someone asked and I heard his answer.

He started filming it in 2003. Released it in 2007. And started screenings in 2008.

Five years?! Oh, my heart sank! I know that we've only been working on our project since March 2008 (now 8 months), but I cannot fathom it being released in 2013! Already, the number of interviewees has tripled, and we are well beyond our original deadline of completing it by September. Yes, we set these deadlines ourselves, and we went beyond the original scope of work--but the thought of having to wait that long to finish this project is painful.

I know I put too much pressure on myself. That's a given. But I have this fear that--because I'm working full time--the project is going to take a lot longer to finish. And, I'm notoriously terrible at finishing anything anyway, so I also have this fear that something will keep me from wrapping it all up the way I have envisioned it. I suppose we all have this buzz of "what-if" thoughts, like annoying mosquitos flying around screaming our fears at us constantly. We are much more fragile than we appear.

My heart sank in that moment because I'm so anxious to finish our project. Everyone is asking me about the film, how it's going, and when it'll be finished. Maybe that's just small talk, or maybe they genuinely care. Either way, I am doing my best to be patient so that we have a final product that is as excellent as it can possibly be with our given constraints. That's the most important thing to remember. Not these fears and doubts.

Oh, fear. Fear is a killer. Improv has taught me that fear is a silly, silly thing. A waste of time, really. We must face our fears and get on with life if we ever wish to accomplish anything. Doubt is the same way. We cannot fear and doubt ourselves, or we shall never cross the finish line. You cannot get on stage with nothing more than trusted teammates and an audience's suggestion, if you don't move with confidence and energy. It's impossible to have a good show if you're not making bold moves, casting fear and doubt aside like the infectious waste that they are.

Visualization. There is a powerful tool. That's something you want in your back pocket, like a fly swatter when those pesky thoughts just won't stop. "I think I can,...I think I can,...I think I can." A silly children's story, or a life lesson?

It is of the utmost importance that we finish this thing with integrity and honor because the subject matter demands it--and we demand it. We want it to be as great as we can possibly make it. But I think I will explode if it takes us five years to finish!

Seeing Moving Midway on Saturday sent me through a whirlwind of emotions. Some of them I was very familiar with, and others I was not prepared to feel. For example, Jay Spain, producer/cinematographer, and I shook hands and spoke for a while. I asked him a bunch of questions. He was very kind, which is one of the reasons I really like local events like this in North Carolina. Everyone's so kind and generous with their time and attention, something that's rare these days.

Then he turned the tables. He asked me if I was a filmmaker and I fumbled. A simple "yes" would have done, but I struggled to say it for some reason. I think I'd gotten so caught up in seeking answers that I didn't have my networking mindset on. Just as I have formed an elevator speech for the film's subject matter, I will now have to grow accustomed to identifying myself as a filmmaker. What a joy!

Pinch me! I am becoming a filmmaker.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Airborne & Special Ops Museum

After dropping Col. Donlon off just down the street from our interview on Saturday, I returned to the Moore Exposure office to pack up the equipment. With everything packed and order restored to Jean's office, I shook her hand and thanked her again for being such a kind hostess. She was absolutely amazing and accomodating. In my packed little red car, I was on the road back to Raleigh. But as I drove off, I remembered how close I was to the Airborn & Special Operations Museum and felt it would be ashame to return to Raleigh without visiting it.

And I am so glad that I detoured to visit the museum. It was well worth the time! The musuem walks you through history, and the development of the Special Forces. It was incredibly appropriate, and really helped me by visually confirming so much of my research. I'm the type of person who needs all three types of learning to make the information really stick. By reading, hearing and doing I can lock that information in and later share it with others. Being in the business of learning all of this history to share it with others, I feel the pressure of memorizing as much as possible so that I can state it with confidence (knowing it as fact) when asked. So walking through the history was pretty exciting!

Research, as I have previously stated, is part of the joy that I find in this process. It probably comes from my family, for which I am incredibly thankful. So much of my research has been focused on the Montagnard culture (with special thanks to Dr. Hickey's anthropological published work), the Vietnam War, and the history of the Special Forces. Before meeting Surry, I knew so little about the Special Forces. And now, I find myself obsessed with learning more about them so that I can speak intelligibly with others about the Special Forces. I find myself cursing the short amount of time to cover such details, too. I would love to spend all day swimming in this information. There is still so much to learn, but the museum definitely helped me solidify what I have been absorbing.

As I walked through the museum, I was taken back to the summer of my 18th birthday. It's one that will stick with me as a favorite for the rest of my life, as I was lucky enough to join my father in Bermuda and then again in France. Oh, what a summer! I look back on it with great joy, as I was so care free at the time. While in France, we traveled up the coast of Normandy and visited many important historical sites. And while at the museum yesterday, I felt like I was revisiting them all over again. How divine that I should already be introduced (much less have visited) the historical locations that were now in front of me?

I remember meeting a soldier who was unloaded on the beaches on D-Day. He was there standing in front of me, revisiting the land that once was a mission. He shared those moments before they landed and they started unloading on the beach; he said he was terrified. He talked about how he started smoking that day because there wasn't much else to do for nerves in those moments, and everyone around him was smoking anyway. They were passing out cigarettes to everyone. I wonder if I wrote down that man's name; I should look through my journals again. He has always stuck with me.

For years my sister and I groaned at the thought of looking at another bronze statue, or visiting another empty field simply because they were historical landmarks. As kids, we felt we were dragged from landmark to landmark, and forced to listen to lectures from our parents about how important each place was in history. And now, as an adult, how my opinion has changed! I recognize the importance now, and would give up so much to revisit those trips as a family. What cherished memories they are, and how saddened I am that I cannot remember each detail with clarity. This, I think, is one of the reasons I journal so much. One cannot remember those details forever.

Anyway, for anyone interested in military history, this museum is dynamite. It could take you a while to walk through the entire museum if you stop to read everything, but as I was close to starving by the time I got there I only spent about an hour enjoying the entire museum (from start to shop). The building is modern and bright when you walk in, and the displays are well designed and organized. And, did I mention, the entire thing is FREE? In today's economy, that's pretty amazing to me. It's only an hour from Raleigh, so head down there if you have a free Saturday.

By the time I left the museum, I was blissfully exhausted and hungry. I attempted to see some more historical sites, but instead headed back to Raleigh in order to see Moving Midway in Durham at 7:15 that night. Having been to Midway a few times with friends, and knowing some of the family members, it was interesting to see them on the big screen. But more on the screening later.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Col. and Mrs. Donlon

Well, yesterday will certainly go down in the history of this project as another one of the coolest ones yet. I spent all week hustling to get everything in order: coordinating details, studying history, packing equipment, charging batteries, restocking miniDV tapes, and reading the Colonel's book.

One thing I've recognized is the number of authors that we have been lucky enough to meet through this project. It has been so helpful to read their stories in great detail, each one is so unique and full of Hollywood-like action and romance. By the time I shook hands with Colonel and Mrs. Donlon, I felt as if I had sat with them for hours learning their stories.

Nevertheless, I was still nervous when it came time to sit down across from one another, and reach over to turn on the camera. Before each interview begins, I always have this wave of panic wash over me, "Will everything operate properly? Are the batteries going to die? What if the camera fails or some loud noise happens while he is saying something incredibly pertinent?" This is my first documentary, and a relatively small project in the grand scheme of things (it's all relative, as my dad says). But to me, this project is HUGE.

I want it to be the best it can be, given our restrictions. I don't want to start editing it together later, only to discover something went wrong. And, to be certain, I am sharing these details so that I will remember them later to better appreciate all of the little nagging thoughts I experience along the way. After all, this blog is titled "Diary of a Documentary" and it is very easy to forget these details once a project is wrapped up neatly. So much happens in each day, that it's tough to capture it all. (Plus, I highly doubt anyone wants to read all of that minutia anyway.)

Saturday morning, up until my arrival in Fayetteville, was full of minutia in waking up, packing the car, filling up my gas tank, etc. When I arrived, I was greeted by a warm smile and hand shake from Jean Moore, a friend of Surry and owner of Moore Exposure. She grew up in Fayetteville and works in promotions. Jean helped me carry in the many bags full of equipment, and showed me to a large room in the center of her office. She even had hot coffee, which was perfect for me during the 8am hour!

By a few minutes before 10am, I had everything set up the way I wanted it and tested the lighting and equipment. Everything seemed to be in order. So, with Jean's reminder, I drove to Haymont Grill and Steak House to pick up Col. Roger Donlon. As soon as I walked in, I recognized Norma and Roger from the picture in his book. Norma's eyes met mine, and I saw her lean over to tell him I was there. Everyone at the table stood, and all eight of us exchanged introductions and hand shakes. Instantly I could see how mesmerized Col. Donlon's audience was with his words. We walked out of (what I would learn later) was one of Col. Donlon's favorite places to eat in Fayetteville.

Not familiar with the area, I relied on my GPS heavily and was very thankful for the directions it provided once Roger was in my car so I could focus on the conversation instead of directions. We talked about the bail out, and the state of our country on the way to Moore Exposure. I've debated about recording the state of my car, but feel that it's one of those silly details I'll purposefully forget later. Let me tell you, it's so dusty! I like to ride with the windows down, which makes it pretty dusty and it's fairly embarrasing to have someone you just meet get into your dirty car. *Sigh.* These are the details of life, I suppose. I would much rather have a dirty car and be better prepared for the interview. Perhaps one day when I have a paid, dedicated crew (oh, I delight in the thought of it), I will be able to pick up VIPs in much cleaner vehicles!

Anyway, we headed back to the Moore Exposure office and reviewed the purpose of our project which are to explore the (1) strong bonds between the Montagnards and Americans, (2) U.S. government's abandonment of the Montagnards after the war, and (3) prevention of repeating this treatment of our allies again in the future, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. After reviewing the questions again, Col. Donlon phoned Dr. Gerald Hickey to ask a quick question and we sat down to get started immediately after that.

Our interview lasted about an hour and a half, and before I knew it our time was at and end. I truly enjoyed the interview, and was saddened to see the hours pass so quickly. I returned him to his kind wife Norma, where she disclosed that he had his Medal of Honor in his pocket. Like a little kid, I asked if I might see it. He took it out of his pocket and unfolded the ribbon, turning the medal over to show the inscription "from Congress" as we walked.

It occured to me, once again, that I am priveledged to meet these heroes by working on this project. And while we, as Americans, fawn over celebutantes and reality TV stars, there are people out there quietly and devotedly serving our country. These are the people who give and give and give, making sure that we have the right to do what we want with our time. And, here in this moment, I walked down the streets of Fayetteville in the presence of real heroes. Two people who have earned the right to shine in the spotlight, and instead continue to serve with dignity and honor.

It is almost too much. Too overwhelming. Too great an honor to serve in recording and investigating this story. I often feel too small, young and poorly prepared to do it justice. But there's the thing. I think we're often faced with great opportunities, and it is up to us to stand up and lead with integrity--no matter how small or out numbered we may be.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Forward Progress

I'm now back in Raleigh, but only for a brief time before hitting the road to Durham. At 6am my alarm clock went off, and around 7am I was on the road to Fayetteville, N.C., to film Col. Roger H. C. Donlon. I think it went well, and am so excited to have him and his kind wife Norma be a part of our project. They were so gracious and kind, as were our hosts in Fayetteville. I will write more on that later. Right now I am headed to Durham to see Moving Midway, as the filmmaker, Godfrey Cheshire, will be there for Q&A after the screening. What a wonderful day full of forward progress!

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Truth About Defeat

I’m a strong woman. Passionate, persistent and often proud. I was raised to know that failure is a way to learn, explore and grow—that when one falls, getting back up is the sign of one’s true character. But what about defeat?

All of those words of wisdom and experience are great material for writing, but when one is in the darkest moments of life they are tough to hear. In fact, it is tough to hear most anything when feeling down like that. The world seems silent. Dark. Empty. Cold and harsh.

And that is a truth about defeat that few will admit. Because when we are defeated, eroded, discouraged and in the depths of despair, it is all we can do to keep going. There is no time or inspiration for writing or exploring thoughts, even calling out for help is troublesome. It is tough to remain resilient when our hopes are dashed and our dreams discolored. But what if we are suddenly the only beacon of hope, and find ourselves leading a group of similarly distraught brethren?

In one of my interviews I spoke with a man who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for many years. He was separated, alone, and unsure of whether or not he would see his family again. But instead of focusing on those negative thoughts, he made the most of being a prisoner of war for the sake of survival. He learned English. Learned to play the guitar. Wrote and sang love songs about his wife. And became an inspiration to those around him.

How, among so much darkness and despair, was he able to hold his head high? How was he able to see opportunity in such horrible conditions? How could I sit across from him and understand the dark details of his experience? How could I pull out those stories hidden behind his kind and warm smile?

In the moments of that interview, he started to look like my late grandfather. But it was more than his skin tone and honest eyes. It was more than his small frame that contradicted his great spirit. In those moments, I saw in him my grandfather’s warmth and kindness, strength of character, love of life and family, and hope for a brighter future. In those moments, sitting across from one anther, he took the very shape of my grandfather—a powerfully restrained man but a joker, and above all else a loving husband, father, Christian, and a Marine.

How I ached to sit across from my grandfather once more and hear his stories about serving in World War II, to hear his voice and see his smile again. How I ached just to be near him, feel his hug and powerful presence. Today, my grandmother still runs her fingers over the photo and telegram she sent to him during the war, stating that he now had a baby boy (my father). We pull out those cherished photo albums and look through the black and white prints regularly.

In the moments of our interview I saw so many similarities between this new friend and my beloved grandfather, despite drastic differences. How can I—a young, white American girl with no military experience—be lucky enough to learn about such important matters from the people that lived through them? How can I be lucky enough to be introduced to such honorable unsung heroes? At times, it feels like it’s too much. At times, I get lost in the harsh realities and feel I might explode if changes do not take shape.

Take the news articles I posted earlier for example. One article reveals negotiations between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments to clean up environmental damage cause during the war. Another reveals a mass grave of communist fighters in the central highlands. And another reveals that a journalist was arrested for taking photos of protesters. Where is the article that reveals the U.S. has decided to include human rights regulations in all of these negotiations? Where is the article that states the U.S. is addressing the plight of the Montagnard people?

My heart has ached recently. As a result of the defeat I have faced (in matters unrelated to this film), I have felt my head drop, my walk become less confident, and the smile fade from my face. Instead, my first wrinkle has appeared and my hopes have been discouraged. In the past year, I have become eroded and my passion and energy have faded. I’ve seen defeat and discouragement. And now, having connected two drastically opposite experiences, I see that the difference is not his surroundings versus mine, but rather the thoughts that spread like a sickness. Negativity is infectious.

I’m an optimist. I like to think that good comes from bad. I like to think that we can improve our lot by working hard and behaving admirably. But my optimism has been tested, and now, thanks to my Montagnard friend, I have learned (again) the valuable lesson that we cannot let outside forces affect us negatively. We cannot, no matter the circumstances, let others keep us from doing good. And, equally important, leadership is an honor and a privilege. Defeat is not an option.

In preparation for tomorrow’s interview, I have been reading a book titled Beyond Nam Dong, written by Col. Roger H. C. Donlon, the first to receive a Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. In his book he describes his life experiences, and the moment he came across a church bulletin after enlisting in the Air Force. In the bulletin was printed the following, which feels fairly appropriate to repeat here. As I ponder thoughts of how strong these men are, how each time they were faced with a challenge they stepped up to face it, and how each time defeat and discouragement taunted them they stood with iron will against such strong forces.


Philosophy of Life

Believe it or not --

Once upon a time the Devil decided to go out of business. He offered his tools for sale to whoever would pay the price.

On the night of the sale, they were all attractively displayed, a bad-looking lot. They were Malice, Hatred, Envy, Jealousy, Sensuality, Deceit, and all the other implements of evil. Each was marked with its price.

Apart from the rest lay a harmless looking wedge-shaped tool, much worn, yet priced higher than any of the others. Someone asked the Devil what it was.

"That is Discouragement," was the reply.

"Why do you have it priced so high?"

"Because," replied the Devil, "it is more useful to me than any of the others. I can pry open and get inside a man's conscience with that when I could not get near him with any of the others, and once inside, I can use him in whatever way suits me best. It is so much worn because I use it with nearly everybody, as very few people yet know it belongs to me."

It hardly needs to be added that the Devil had such a high price on Discouragement that it was never sold. He still owns it and is still using it. Beware of it!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Slow and Steady

This weekend I will be heading to Fayetteville, N.C., or "Fayette-Nam" as some people call it. I've been preparing my list of things to pack for the remote interview: lights, camera, batteries, tapes, etc. And will be picking up a book written by the person whom I'll interview and will try to read as much as possible before this weekend's interview. I like to be as prepared as possible, and am keenly aware of my ignorance as a civilian lately.

In other news, though, I've been picking up steam on production again, finally having recovered from some unknown illness over the past few weeks. After having been to three different doctors, I still have no clue what was making me sick. One doc thought I had mono, another thought it was a sinus infection. Either way, all I know is that for about 2-3 hours a day I felt like myself. The rest of the hours were spent in a zombie-like state, hardly able to stand or walk. I took off almost a full week of work, sleeping through almost the entire day. It was incredibly frustrating to go from a full day of working, running 2-3 miles, working on my film to hardly able to make it to work at all. But, thankfully, I'm much better and am feeling like my old self again!

Wow, we have so much work to do before this film is finished. I'm very excited about the growth of our project, especially having the number of interviews conducted doubled from the original scope. And we have a few more people that we will interview before capping the total somewhere around 15 total interviews. Each interview takes about an hour or two on camera, plus about an hour or two to set up and strike the set (take down the cameras, etc.)--give or take depending on where/when the interviews were conducted.

This will be the first out of town interview, and I am so excited about it. I think that it will add a lot of value to the production and I'm looking forward to writing about it afterward. During the hour-long car ride, I plan on listening to the interviews we conducted already. I can put them all on my iPod Shuffle or a CD to review them. It's very helpful (like stretching before running) in preparation so that I can make the most of the time we have on camera.

Yes, there is much work to be done and frustratingly little time in each day to do it all. Patience. Determination. Ruthless committment to success. We shall not flag or fail. Slow and steady wins the race. Or, in our case, creates a final product of excellence and long-lasting value.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Plumbing and Pizza

Whew, what a day! The faucet in my house is leaking so I've been trying for months to prioritize that project (one among hundreds). The squeaky wheel gets the grease, though, no? This past week it couldn't get it to stop running blazing hot water, which I'm sure was costing me an arm and a leg. So I finally called the plumber to come out, and he gave me a hard time about using the pliers to turn off the water, which stripped the threads on the little thingy that is key to making it stop leaking.

So today I went to this little place off of Capital Blvd to get new thingies to fix the leaking faucet. Came home with my meter key to turn the water to the house back on, and after all is said and done the thing continues to leak! This is more than $100 later and the thing is still leaking hot water. Meanwhile I have been showering at my sister and brother-in-law's house while the water was off all weekend. At least I've gotten to see them more often!

So how does any of this relate to the film? Because this is the minutia that gets in the way of completing things that are of importance. This is the madness that slows down production, and it's the thing that you don't plan for when you're starting a project. I call it madness because I'm at the end of my rope with this silly faucet. Specifically how it's wasted so much of my time already, time that I want to spend on something else.

Grrrrrr. So, I turned the water to the house off again. Ordered a pizza. And started working again, at least until I can call the plumber again tomorrow.

One. small. step. at. a. time.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Family. I am fascinated by the word. What makes someone family? Is it birth? Blood? Love? Experience? If someone sacrifices for you, do you make them part of your family?

Surry invited me to a Montagnard birthday party a week or so ago. I am fascinated by how they can fill a kitchen with food that seems to effortlessly appear from nowhere. Our Montagnard host has a way of making you feel like the red carpet has been laid out just for you. He has the best smile, and shines when Surry walks up. "Hello, Doctor!" he says as they greet each other as brothers. Two people, raised in different countries on the other side of the world now greet each other in Raleigh as brothers. They hug like family.

My family and experience taught me that during events like a party, lending a hand, helping prepare the food, or doing dishes after meals is proper. Yet, I continue to find myself in a more male role where the decision-makers of the group want to talk. It is honorable and humbling to see one of the Montagnard leaders excitedly shake my hand at our introduction, obviously having learned a little about the project. They immediately want to jump into conversation about it to learn more and offer information. After eating they wish to stay in our company and ask questions, share ideas, and explain the way things are done in their family.

Yes, family fascinates me. We are born into family, raised by a family and go on to create our own families. We join families by marriage. And we make up our own, new families. We form families from experiences like performing together on stage, volunteering to help find homes for abandoned animals, and especially serving together in combat. This is the stuff of which films are made. It is the human condition with which I am obsessed.

There are so many people in my life that have adopted me, and I am so grateful to them for it. By birth I was given an amazing family, but lately have found myself in new families. This project, for example, is creating a family of people who are interested in our forgotten Montagnard allies--a group of people willing to offer their time, efforts and money to making this project happen so that others can learn the truth.

I have learned so much. I have so much to learn.

Monday, September 22, 2008

News from Nam

Many of my interviews have revealed the rough treatment of Montagnards by Vietnamese officials. Stories of Montagnards being hunted in the jungles like animals, beaten, and refused the chance to come to America. After South Vientam fell to communism, churches were destroyed and religious freedom ended.

Here is a story of a photographer being beaten for taking pictures during a protest in Hanoi. The part that lingers in my mind? The statement at the very end, "The U.S. Embassy filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry after the incident, and the State Department has asked the Vietnamese government what it would do to prevent such incidents in the future."

Why would the State Department be asking? Should we not be demanding that changes take shape? This story illustrates the realities of so much of what I have heard during my interviews.

Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The Vietnamese government said Saturday that an Associated Press journalist was violating its laws when he photographed a demonstration by land protesters in Hanoi, but sought to deny that he was beaten while in police custody.

AP Hanoi Chief of Bureau Ben Stocking emerged from a police station Friday with matted blood on his head and trousers, and a gash in his head requiring four stitches. He reported that he had been choked, punched and bashed with his own camera -- the last assault opening a cut in his scalp that bled profusely. After his 2 1/2 hours in detention, he immediately had to seek treatment at a private clinic for the head injury.

Nevertheless, a foreign ministry statement disputed that there had been a beating.

"There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force," read the statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung and posted on the Foreign Ministry Web site.

"Stocking broke the Vietnamese law by deliberately taking pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed," the statement said. "Officers who were on duty to keep the public order warned him, but Mr. Stocking did not follow."

The Associated Press stands by Stocking's account that he was assaulted and said that there was no evidence that Stocking had broken any law. It has called the treatment of him "unacceptable" and an "egregious incident of police abuse."

A video taken by an unknown cameraman and posted on YouTube showed the first part of Stocking's detention.

Before he was escorted away by a plainclothes officer and put into a choke hold, the video shows Stocking calmly standing next to a police officer in broad daylight routinely photographing the protest, which involved a long-running dispute by Roman Catholics seeking the return of what had been church land.

He offers no resistance when asked to step away and is dressed in a dark shirt and clean white trousers.

Photographs taken by the AP of him after his release a few hours later showed blood on his clothing and caking his neck and hair.

The U.S. Embassy filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry after the incident, and the State Department has asked the Vietnamese government what it would do to prevent such incidents in the future.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists in May cited the Vietnamese government for a "recent spate of arrests, detentions, and trials of journalists in Vietnam" that it said contradicted the country's constitutional provision that "broadly protects press freedom and freedom of expression."

(Just search for the headline, and you can see the article online from the AP newswire.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Vietnam in the News

Found these two articles interesting today:
  • Vietnam discovers mass grave of communist soldiers

    Posted: Sep. 7, 2008

    A military official says authorities in Vietnam's Central Highlands have discovered a mass grave containing 22 sets of remains of communist soldiers killed during the Vietnam War.

    Lieut. Col. Nguyen Tien Lam of the provincial military command says it took an excavation team of 12 soldiers five days to recover the remains in Kon Tum province.

    He said Monday that the remains were discovered by a resident who was digging the foundation for a house. He says the excavation team also found personal effects, such as rubber sandals, water containers, hammocks and bullets.

    Lam says none of the remains have been identified. But he says that based on the items found at the site and accounts from residents in the area, authorities believe the remains belonged to communist soldiers killed during the Tet Offensive.

    An estimated 58,000 Americans and 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.

  • US, Vietnam open annual Agent Orange meetings

    The U.S. and Vietnam on Monday opened their third round of annual talks on ways to limit the environmental effects of Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant the U.S. sprayed extensively during the Vietnam War.

    Officials and experts from both countries convened a weeklong session that will include a visit to the former U.S. air base at Bien Hoa, one of several so-called Agent Orange "hotspots" where the U.S. military stored and mixed Agent Orange before loading it onto planes.

    The two sides are expected to announce plans for using US$3 million the U.S. Congress set aside in 2007 for the cleanup of dioxin, a highly toxic element of Agent Orange.

    U.S. forces sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange on Vietnamese jungles during the war to deprive Vietnamese troops of ground cover and to damage crops.

    Vietnam believes as many as 4 million people have suffered serious health problems associated with Agent Orange. The U.S. says the actual number is probably far lower and that further scientific study is needed to understand the link between Agent Orange and health.

    Part of the US$3 million allocation has already been set aside to help people with disabilities in Danang, the site of another former U.S. air base and another Agent Orange hotspot.

    The Vietnamese have complained that the US$3 million isn't nearly enough. They say cleaning up the Danang site alone will cost at least US$14 million.

    The U.S. counters it has spent more than US$40 million since 1989 to help Vietnamese with disabilities, regardless of their causes.

    The Agent Orange issue is perhaps the most contentious remaining legacy of the Vietnam War.

    After years of disagreement over the subject, the two sides began working together more closely two years ago to address problems linked with the defoliant.

    A joint study in Danang found dioxin levels were 300 to 400 times higher than internationally accepted limits.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday Already

My, how quickly the time passes! One week ago I was so anxious to start this vacation. I had my to do list prepped and was gunning to go. Flash forward a week, and I am astonished that the days have come and gone so quickly. Isn't that the way vacation always happens?

While I feel like I haven't accomplished nearly enough, despite having done quite a bit. Regardless, the to do list continues to grow. There is much to do, and I am anxious to see some more forward progress!

This afternoon, I dropped by to pick up two things Mike sent to Surry. One is a DVD of an Australian film (which I think I saw on You Tube earlier) called Americas Forgotten Allies. It's about the Montagnard people, so I am excited to see this film and study another's approach to the same subject.

Meanwhile, I continue reading Dr. Hickey's books. Shattered World is one he wrote about the 'adaptation and survival among Vietnam's highland peoples during the Vietnam War' and has eloquently and succinctly described much of what I have heard from others. He describes the world of the Montagnards:

It is a world centered on small communities where kinship is primary and resources are shared by all. The people respect the integrity of their natural surroundings, and each society has leaders who serve as stewards in preserving it. Villagers farm slopes and bottomland within the never-ending cycle of rainy seasons followed by dry seasons, of fields planted or fallowing...

The highland people could have endured without "civilized" outsiders, but that was not to be. In the late nineteenth century the mountain country came under the colonial rule of the French, and in 1955 it became part of the Republic of Vientam (South Vietnam). During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Vietnamese (from both the North and South) and the Americans inflicted devastating modern warfare that engulfed the region. The end of the Vietnam War in 1975 brought Communist rule, the harshest yet imposed upon the highland people.
The more and more I talk with people about the film (both its subject matter and the process), the more anxious I grow to finish it. We are focused on making it an excellent piece that focuses on three key points about the government's poor treatment of allies. For a country to be so young and have so much power, we certainly are not a shining example of how things should be done.

War is an ugly animal. Thankfully I have never seen it first hand. But I weep over the things that have taken place in the name of freedom. I have many strong opinions, which I am working hard to keep out of this project. I want to present these opinions and let others draw their own conclusions. I don't want the presentation to be heavy handed and full of my own opinions. But I find it is difficult to keep them to myself. Earlier this week I found these opinions spilling out to my grandmother and father, both of whom have lived through wars. My grandmother saw seven people in our family go off to World War II, and thankfully saw each of them come home again. My father saw college friends go off to the Vietnam War, but sadly never saw some of them again. Lives of people cut terribly short.

War is an ugly animal. It is fought by people. And we must seek to understand it so that we do not repeat tragedies again. We, as individuals, must rise up to demand that our leaders represent us well. We must seek to understand the dynamics of politics so that we can help shape them. We must not be lazy or disinterested. We must, as a people, unite to make this world a better place.

Mike (one of our interviewees) usually includes a quote in his emails, which I think is incredibly important. It is one of my favorites and takes on new meaning for me this year. A year in which we elect a new president, in which we hire a new CEO of our country. And a year in which we say, "Yes, we believe in the promises you made on the campaign trail. Now you have the honor of leading us. Get to work."

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke