Friday, August 15, 2008

Hawaii = Vietnam?

I went to see the latest Batman movie when it opened. And one of the trailers before the movie started with scenes from Vietnam, with guys in uniform running and helicopters exploding and such. It felt very real.

So real, in fact, that I immediately burst into tears. I was so overwhelmed with emotion from the interviews I had recently conducted that these few seconds of trailer brought me to tears. It was as if these emotions rushed over me when the helicopter exploded. I felt every emotion I've been feeling during the interviews, and finally came face to face with them: empathy, sadness, fear, and confusion. In a matter of seconds, I was transformed. And all of these reactions were to a trailer in a theater, no where close to living through it in real life. All that I had felt during interviews in June, July and August came rushing to the surface I could no longer hold back the tears.

At least, until they cut to the scene where Ben Stiller lay on the ground and Robert Downey Jr. cries and the actor/director yells, "Cut!" Immediately I was transformed again, but this time I could not stop laughing. I had forgotten that Tropic Thunder was about to be released, despite making note of it prior to starting this film project.

The trailer for Tropic Thunder made me want to go see it. Not because it's a Ben Stiller movie or because it's a comedy, but because it is a movie within a movie pretending to be about the Vietnam War. I wanted to be immersed in the Vietnam War experience. I wanted to feel like I was in country, walking through the mud, sweating in the miserable heat, and unsure if I would live to see tomorrow. I wanted to know what it felt like, and what better way to visit a Communist country than via a theater in Raleigh watching a movie shot in Hawaii pretending to be Vietnam. (Sense the sarcasm about Hollywood's ways? If not, don't go see the movie, because it's full of painful, beautiful punches at Hollywood.)

The movie was good, for comedy's sake anyway. It has little to do with the Vietnam War, though. I had trouble with the plot, knowing what I now know about the real Vietnam and how they are mistreating people. But if you can control your thoughts enough to fall into that 'willing suspension of disbelief' and take it at face value, it's not a bad movie, and will certainly make most American audiences laugh a lot. I know I was laughing loudly, even as I walked out of the theater and got into my little foreign car.

What I find most interesting, is the buzz surrounding the movie. There were many activists boycotting the movie because of the use of the word 'retard' and others talking about the political incorrectness of Robert Downey Jr.'s depiction of a white Australian actor who undergoes skin tinting to play the role of a black man in the movie within the movie. What I like about the backlash is that it is a reaction to the movie. The film is powerful enough to ellicit a boycott, for crying out loud. Just imagine what other films could do.

My comments on the film are belated since I saw it mid-month, but it is relative to the project we are working on, and so I wanted to capture these thoughts. And as a filmmaker, I want to take note of how important it is to fully research and understand something (a people, a country, a war, a time period) in order to portray it for others.

It is easy to blindly accept the 'truth' portrayed, and I hope that we can inspire people to seek their own truths. Yes, we have points we want to proove, but don't take these opinions as gospel. Do research, and keep seeking the truth. One film cannot give summize everything about the Montagnard people. Ce n'est pas possible.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

First Five Transcriptions

Transcriptions from five tapes are in! How exciting. Meetings yesterday with volunteers went wonderfully, and are hugely motivating to keep this project going on time. Still reading as much as possible before falling asleep at night, and playing the movie in my head. Oh, goodness, it does seem possible to have it finished! I know so!! More to come...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lunch Break Blogging

Yesterday I filmed an interview with a man named Thomas, thanks to Surry's support in coordinating the day, time and location. What a wonderful thing to have his help in setting up the interview; it made things incredibly easy for me to focus on getting what we need on camera!

The interview went well, I believe. While I've not reviewed the tapes yet, the conversation was very good and Thomas was a passionate speaker. I cannot express my excitement when he showed up carrying a bag full of photos and books to share! He even had a photo copy of a letter to share with me, describing events that took place while he served as a leader in combat during the Vietnam War.

Yesterday was a beautiful end to what started as a very stressful day. I had been hoping for miracles, and the second he started sharing those photos a feeling of renewed strength washed over me.

Surry also helped me pack up my car with all of the equipment, which wonderfully lightened my load. Packing and unpacking the equipment is a task that I'm becoming very efficient with as we conduct each interview. I had prepared to have an hour of set up time, and completed the set up in half the amount of time. (But I suspect that Surry's help in setting up the room cut that time in half, not my own efforts!)

He shared with me three carousels of 35mm slides that he shot during Vietnam. Oh, the joy! I am so excited to have this material! As I keep playing the movie in my head, I have been pained by the lack of archival footage and imagery. Each step of the process presents a new challenge, and this one has been the thorn in my side of late. Not something which I have focused on too much, but feel it resting there just waiting to become a bigger problem down the road, you know? Any-whoo, I am very excited to now have some of those materials to sort through and trust that more are on the way. We need those images to use while others talk, so that our viewers can see and understand what the interviewees describe.

Also, I have been reading (or studying, rather) Dr. Gerald Hickey's books, and am very excited to revisit them because they so appropriately detail what I have learned during each interview. As they are on my bedside table, I cannot quote them to you here yet, but I am excited to report them very soon. For those new to the subject matter, Dr. Hickey is the expert on the Montagnard history, culture and traditions. Reading his books puts everything into perspective. More on that soon!

Surry and I spent some time yesterday reviewing the priorities on our to do lists, and at one point we simultaneously sighed. It's obvious that we have our work cut out for us, but I think that the team we're building is going to help us execute this with excellence. We have our three points to make, and are focusing on sharing those with everyone using the media of this documentary film.

Today I have meetings with two of my volunteers, which I am very excited about. Doing this project on nights and weekends lends itself to taking an incredibly long time to finish since your time is limited each day. In my marketing communications experience, you can only have two of three of the following: cost effectiveness, timeliness, or quality. It is very tough to have all three at the same time. And similarly, it is very difficult to have all three while working full time. BUT! There's the joy! It is possible when you have such a cracker jack team of volunteers like the ones we have here. I'm overwhelmed at the support they've provided and continue to offer, and trust that more volunteers will arrive soon. In the past month, I've had a few folks say they want to help, but don't know how just yet. Trust me, friends, there is enough work to be shared and we shall find a place where you can happily volunteer!

My sister called me pushy once. I balked at the statement, proclaiming that I was most certainly not pushy by any definition. Well...she has proven to be correct. I suppose I can be quite pushy, but in this situation, I am thankful for that trait. We must push forward to get this show on the road, and I believe we can get it finished in the coming month or two. I am confident that the miracle will take place, and we will be sharing the first cut very soon! It is not hopeful, it is a must.

Monday, August 11, 2008

More Filming

Had lunch with Lap on Friday, talked about how to teach his son his language. He's passionate about preserving his language and culture, something I can relate to completely. I am from Eastern NC and have very little of that accent left according to some folks. An Englishman said I sounded like a Yankee last month, others have said I sound Canadian. Anyway, I can relate to the importance of preserving one's family history and culture. I hope I can help out in some way (somewhat selfishly so that I can learn the language, too).

He allowed me the honor of filming his sister's wedding that Saturday. It was a Montagnard-American wedding led by a Spanish-speaking pastor. Very cool. The bride and groom kept thanking me, telling me that it was such a blessing. I'm looking forward to giving them the edited copy as soon as I get the chance.

We're filming another interview tomorrow. Transcriptions are in progress, as is digitizing of tapes. It's been very cool to have the work continue while I rested up (I slept 10 hours on Saturday night and woke up at 5:30am on Sunday confused about what day it was!). There's much to be done, and the pressure's on to keep it going. I think we can, I think we can, I think we can!