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.