Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Back to Blogging: Part 2

It has been incredibly difficult to start blogging again. Can't tell you why, really. I imagine I probably got burned out getting the film in rough cut stage over the course of the last few months. But, thankfully, I have had some time to relax and rest up. Now it's time to start "pounding the pavement" again. I'll do my best to keep you more updated about the film, my friends. We are so appreciative that you care enough to follow along with this filmmaking journey.

We worked really hard to get the film into its current state, but there's more work to do. My team worked hard on the gathering of music, composing original scores, graphic design, motion graphics, social media management, setting up our Withoutabox information, and so much more. By the way, the film totally has an IMDB page now, thanks to Chris Moore who helped make that happen (yay!): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1788347/.

Thanks to the effort of so many people, we submitted the rough cut of the film to its first film festival. This is a huge milestone, and I'm thrilled to have it behind us now. So, what now, you ask? Well, now we finish the film.

From this stage, we'll start the serious tweaking and adding of the final finesse. Motion graphics (opening title sequence, lower thirds, chapter headings, end credits, etc.), music, sound engineering, color correction, adding more images and footage....the list is a long one, but I'm hoping this is the easier part now. The hard part, for me, was editing the story together. The fun part, for me, will be finally sharing these three plus years of hard work.

We'll have the film in its final stages by the end of February if all goes according to plan. We'll hear back about the film festival by early March. We dearly hope that we'll be able to show the film in April in North Carolina. After that, we'll have some super fun events and will be able to start sharing the film with you later next year.

Wow, it feels good to be typing such sentences. We have worked diligently for a very long time, and I absolutely cannot wait to share the film with you. Thanks, always, for following along, asking about our progress, and supporting me when I'm close to breaking down. What a dream come true this whole things has been! I feel like I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Back to Blogging

Hello again, friends! Whew, it's been a while, hey? So much has happened in the past few days that it'll be tough to update you in one blog post. So I'll stick with the big news. Last week we submitted a rough cut of Abandoned Allies to its first film festival!

This is a huge milestone because we've been in post-production for about two years. This also means we're on the fast track to have it totally finished by the end of February. What a wonderful feeling to be this close to finishing the film. There's still a significant amount of tweaking left, but we are on our way now.

The team of folks who helped us submit the film is absolutely wonderful. There are so many thank yous to write. I do want to quickly thank Surry, Annie Beth, Kyle, Chris, Zach, Patrick, Drew, Steve, Sally, Adger, and my parents for being such solid forms of support during these past few weeks. They really stepped up to help make things come together (and keep me sane). I'm so appreciative of all the people who have helped make this film. It's a wild adventure, and I have to pinch myself regularly because I feel so lucky to be doing this work.

While working on the film, I have been dog-tired.
Even my pup was wiped out. Don't know why he
sleeps with his tongue sticking out, though.
That said, the past few weeks have been even more intense than usual. I've neglected some important things while trying to make the film ready for its submission, and that hurts me deeply. The list of stuff that's been neglected is probably longer than our credits.

So I'm thinking through ways to improve efficiency for the next film. How can I improve as a producer/director? What can I do to help my team (work better, stay happy, do amazing things, etc.)? What tasks are distracting to me, and who can I find to do those tasks so I can stay focused? My mind works over time on these things so I can make the next film better and more quickly. I can't stop looking back and analyzing it, so that I can make the next film faster and better.

This form of "debriefing" after a period of intensity is probably instilled in me from my days at Camp Don Lee. We'd go on sailing trips, and almost immediately debrief after we returned. It's a good practice, and one I hope to take with me throughout my career. I'm lucky to work with people who are honest and unafraid to give feedback on the process, so I hope to debrief with them next year when we finish the film.

Equally important, though, is a bit of R&R after a period of such intensity. I hope my teammates are resting up. I've already given myself some small rewards: a chocolate chip / peppermint milkshake, two new pairs of jeans (bought on black Friday for 50% off, of course), three days of sleeping in, about five hours of cooking/baking, a night cuddled up with my dog on the couch watching delightfully mindless TV, an hour playing the guitar for the first time in years, and some serious quality time with family and friends that I've missed terribly over the past few weeks. There are a few more rewards on my list, and I plan on checking them off soon.

While there's much more work ahead of us, I'm feeling like a huge weight has lifted. In fact, the other night I was just describing how I feel like a fog has lifted. I can see the future of this film much more clearly now, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the coming years. It's a lot of hard work, but I see it already bringing awareness to this important segment of U.S. history and how it relates to today. So, cheers, to that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mini Blogging Break

Hello, friends.

We're going to take a mini blogging break.  It's Thanksgiving week here in the States.  We're hustling to finish the film, too.  We promise to be back to blogging soon.  Thanks for following along with our filmmaking adventure.

More updates soon!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Vietnam

The U.S. State Department just released its International Religious Freedom Report 2010, confirming that the lack of religious freedom in Vietnam is still a problem for loyal American allies known as the Montagnard people. Many of the Montagnards converted to Christianity because of the French and American missionaries who were in their country. They are persecuted for their beliefs in their home country today.

Another article titled "Vietnam slams US State Department religious freedom report as biased, incorrect" was recently published. It's a short article, so I'll post it here in case it gets removed later:
Vietnam slams US State Department religious freedom report as biased, incorrect 
HANOI, Vietnam - Vietnam's communist government has slammed the U.S. State Department's annual religious freedom report, calling it biased and based on incorrect information.
The report on the status of religious freedom worldwide, released Wednesday, noted an improved respect for religious freedom and practices in Vietnam, but said significant problems remained.
"Some religious believers continued to experience harassment or repression, particularly those who had not applied for or been granted legal sanction," the report said. "In a number of instances, local officials forced church gatherings to cease, closed unregistered house churches, and pressured individuals to renounce their religious beliefs."
Vietnam's foreign ministry said the report "continues to produce biased assessment that is built on incorrect information on Vietnam."
"In Vietnam, the rights to freedom of belief and religion of the Vietnamese people are enshrined in the national constitution and are respected and guaranteed in reality," ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said in a statement posted on the ministry's website late Thursday.
There are a dozen sanctioned religions in Vietnam, a nation of 86 million people, with Buddhism and Christianity the largest. Those not recognized by the communist government are outlawed.

It's obvious that Vietnam wants the world to think they're improving human rights and religious freedoms, whether they are actually doing that or not. Our country gives a lot of lip service to improving human rights.  There are economic benefits that come with trading with the United States, and we can use that as leverage to improve human rights for our loyal allies, the Montagnards.  An article stated recently that the US is "Vietnam's largest export market and is currently one of the six largest foreign investors in the country with committed investment of $15 billion."

Our country is trading and investing in a country that treats our loyal allies poorly, but we can change that.  The media has identified a key motivating factor for the Vietnamese--$15 billion.

Abandoned Allies explores these things on film.  These are things I knew nothing about when we started the project in March 2008.  Knowing what I know now, I am hopeful that we can see positive change take shape.  I don't pretend to have the answers, but I know that awareness can lead to change.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Living the Dream

It is extraordinarily hard to know what you want.
It is harder in a way to know what you want than how to get it. Sometimes we block our desires for fear we won't get them. Our fears of disappointment and rejection are so huge that we will stay with things we are unhappy with because we know them. Fear of the unknown is so big.
I like big. It's a good word. Short but expansive. It makes me smile when I say it.
Choosing what you want is the biggest difference you can make in your life.
You cannot be doing what you'd rather be doing until you have made that choice. Not the decision, an informed choice. Choice about what you are, what you want and what you will have to lose to do it. 
-- Nicola Phillips, The Big Difference: Life Works When You Choose It

These are words from a book I happened to pick up on January 1, 2007. Inside the book I wrote "a $10 gift to myself" thinking it would inspire me. I only bought it because it was 1/2 off, and years later I'm still enjoying the book and the notes I wrote inside it.

This morning, especially, I recalled where I was in my career (and emotionally) when I bought the book. Filmmaking seemed like a dream that was so far away because I didn't know how to do it, where to go, or how to figure it out. I also didn't know what, exactly, I wanted to do in the industry. I just knew that I wanted to try it.

The year before I bought The Big Difference, I had decided to move to L.A. When I visited L.A., I loved it and wanted to stay. I thought about whether I should ship, drive or sell my car. I thought about how to get a job in L.A. to pay the bills while figuring out how to get into the film industry. I could be a secretary, or answer phones. Something corporate to pay the bills. I even looked at where to live, and how to find roommates. I was convinced this was the plan. But something didn't feel quite right. So I stayed in my beloved home state of North Carolina.

Low and behold, I have been able to do everything I wanted to do in L.A. right here in Raleigh, N.C. These two worlds are quite different, but I have been able to try what I wanted to try without actually moving. I was able to study improvisational comedy through ComedyWorx and iO, and I am now making my own film. How lucky I am to have had these opportunities in my home state.

For those of you who are trying to figure out your career, what you want out of life, and how to make your dreams come true, I recommend this book. It leaves you with a lot of questions, but helps you think through things for yourself. It helps you figure out the path you'll take, because none of us take the same paths in life, right?

My favorite chapter is titled "Living in Chaotic Space," which is exactly where I've been living for about three years now. The learning curve I've faced in making Abandoned Allies is both thrilling and simultaneously exhausting. Because I crave new information, though, this chaotic space has become quite satisfying and comfortable (on some days, but not all days).

In the past week I've wanted to throw my massive desktop out the window out of frustration. Then on days like today, I'm in the right place at the right time and the right people show me the right information. It's as if the universe aligns for the briefest of moments to show confirmation that I am doing what I'm meant to be doing. And that, my friends, is worth any frustration I might feel along the way.

Besides, these silly little battles I have are so insignificant when I see the bigger picture. Any time I start to feel tired or have self-pity, I am reminded of the struggles that my cast members went through in their lives. It's a healthy dose of perspective, and I am often left weeping in the midst of editing video.

How I long to share this film with you. I only hope that the film will tell these stories well, and that you'll forgive me of my first-time filmmaker mistakes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Talk at NCSU (Round 2)

This morning I was lucky enough to visit Dr. Patterson's STS 323 class to talk about Abandoned Allies and the issues it covers: human rights, foreign policy, the US Special Forces, and our loyal allies, the Montagnard people. I'm very grateful to Dr. Patterson, his students, and Laura Hartman for the kind introduction to the class.

It's an honor to share the subject with such smart university students. The subject is a complex one, and speaking to Dr. Patterson's classes has helped me think through our messages and how to distill them down into smaller bits of information for a presentation (outside of the media of film).  Abandoned Allies has a very narrow scope, and would be much longer if we covered all that I wish could go into it.  Finding what to cut / keep has been one of the biggest challenges.

Today, the room was full of about 200+ undergraduate students, many of whom are set to graduate soon. They were kind enough to listen to me talk about our project, and all of the things I've struggled to learn since the adventure started in March 2008. It's tough to not get amped up when talking about what's happening to our allies in Vietnam today.

Once I learned more about the truth explored in Abandoned Allies--and I still have more to learn--I couldn't help but be embarrassed and upset about it. Our government made a promise to the Montagnards: fight with us, and we'll help you find freedom.  We didn't live up to that promise.  It's a bit therapeutic to finally start sharing these things publicly, because we (as Americans) can actually do something to change this without the fear of being thrown into jail. Our Montagnard friends in Vietnam don't have that freedom, as all of my research has shown me.

Our country is trading with Vietnam, yet our allies are facing persecution in that country. It's a very complicated thing, to some degree. Do we continue trading or not? Can foreign trade be lumped together with human rights? How could our country stipulate human rights worldwide? Then again, how can we not stipulate that our allies be treated fairly? I have many more questions than I have answers.

Last night, in preparation for the talk, I searched for news relating to Vietnam.  I found one article from the Canadian Press titled "Vietnam jails 2 hill tribe villagers for plotting anti-government protests" and another article from Bernama.com titled "Bill Clinton pledges more help to Vietnam." These two contradictory articles leave me with a feeling of unrest. Both were published in the last month. On one hand we have the persecution of Montagnards (or "hill tribe villagers" as the article calls them) and on the other, we have our previous President promising economic benefits for trading with the very country doing the persecuting. It's there, in black and white, for anyone who wants to piece it together.

These talks to students have been really helpful because this doc is not just a film--it's real life, happening today.  My interest in this subject won't end after the film is finished, or after it has been shown to audiences. It'll be a lifelong interest of mine, as I learn how to be a more active/responsible citizen of the United States. I love my country. Learning these things about the broken promises of our government hurts me, and I search for answers about how to make it right.

Dr. Patterson asked me to speak to another class this afternoon, so I will head that way soon. I'm learning more from these talks than the audience is, I'm sure. They raise great questions, and a few students have even offered to help us with the film and events related to it.  I'm so grateful and honored.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Viva La Challenges

Forgive me if that title is grammatically incorrect in French.  It's been a while since I've studied it...and I was always better at the accent than the foreign grammar.

Soooooo, it's been a while.  How've you been.  Good?  I'm good, too.  Actually, that's a half-truth.

The whole truth?  I've been trying for a week to export Abandoned Allies so that I can get it to my team (designer, animator, composer, music supervisor), and every attempt has been a royal failure.  Each moment, hour, and day that passes makes that deadline creep closer and closer.  I've become the bottleneck.  It's incredibly frustrating.

If you're tracking the progress of our film, know that we're making progress.  It's taking time, but we're moving forward.  I'm not one to moan about all the failures.  It's too depressing living it, much less writing about it.  But I've had my fill of challenges this week, and I'm looking forward to a vacation when the film is finished.  Anyone wanna send me to Disney World so I can be like the commercials?

Keep us in your thoughts (and prayers if you do that, too).  These next few weeks are going to be seriously intense, but I look forward to them, knowing that we can pull it off.

"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."
-- Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Great Britian

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Triangle Flight of Honor Salutes Our Veterans of WW II

The following is a guest post by Abandoned Allies supporter and friend Lisa Sullivan. Lisa had an incredible opportunity to witness a Veteran’s Day celebration last week, and she shares her story with us here.
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…" 
-- President Woodrow Wilson, official proclamation in November 1919 marking the celebration of Armistice Day, later re-named Veteran’s Day in 1954.

About 1,500 people welcomed the Veterans at RDU last week.
Read President Wilson's words and you can’t help but instantly feel them. Each year on November 11th we pay tribute to those that served for our country, those that continue to serve, and--even though it’s not in the official proclamation--the families that support them.

Last week, I witnessed one of the truest forms of celebration I have ever experienced thanks to the Triangle Flight of Honor program.

On Thursday, November 4, 2010, a plane carrying 100 Triangle area World War II Veterans and several volunteers departed Raleigh-Durham International Airport bound for a day-long trip to Washington, D.C. Their mission is to make it possible for aging Veterans to visit the memorials that were erected in their honor. The plane departed early in the morning to much fan-fare, including a water cannon salute, and returned to just as much celebration. It was the return that I had the chance to experience….and I’m so glad I did.

Banners welcoming the Veterans were hanging up at RDU.
In the atrium of the RDU parking garage that separates Terminal 1 from Terminal 2, folks from Triangle Flight of Honor, the local USO Chapter, and several Boy and Cub Scout troops gathered to hang banners, pass out flags, ready the coffee and refreshments, all while the National Guard Band plays for the guests in attendance – nearly 1,500 of them! I was one of the 1,500.

Photos honoring each Veteran were on easels at the airport.
When I arrived, they had already set up the poster-sized photographs honoring each Veteran complete with a bunch of red, white, and blue balloons attached to the back of the easel with which it stood. Those Boy and Cub Scouts I mentioned were passing out their flags, good-sized ones too. I grabbed a cup of hot coffee and proceeded to walk around the area near Terminal 1.

Lisa's Grandfather
Tears filled my eyes. While I didn’t have a grandparent in attendance, my grandfather served in World War II. As a matter of fact, his platoon was on the ground days after D-Day. He experienced the wreckage and carnage that was left behind.

 As a child, I remember stories he would tell every time a military show came on the television or a documentary was screened or a holiday came around (Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day). I had to be there last Thursday for him. As I type this, I still have tears in my eyes.

At the welcome home event, there’s a lot of waiting. You have to get their early to see everything, and of course grab a prime viewing spot for when the Veterans return. But when they do return the crowd roars, the band plays, and there is not a dry eye in the house. Watching those men return to a celebration that’s just for them, watching their eyes light up at the numbers of people in attendance, and as they see their loved ones waving with flags or signage in hand--it’s truly something.

The Triangle Flight of Honor program is a nonprofit organization that relies on donors, sponsorship, and volunteers to make this happen for Veterans. The group aims to give all World War II Veterans in the area a chance to see the memorials in Washington in their honor. What they do is remarkable and it’s an honor just to be there.

The organization will be making another trip in February of 2011 and possibly in April as well. For more information, please visit http://triangleflightofhonor.com. Maybe I’ll see you in the crowd in February.

Lisa at the Triangle Flight of Honor event last week.
Lisa Sullivan is a social and new media specialist assisting with the film’s marketing efforts. You can find Lisa at http://lisasullivanpr.com. For more of her writings, visit her blog – http://quintessentialfeline.com.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Pressure is On

Our goal is to have the film finished by Thanksgiving. We're hustling to meet that deadline.

Surry has been working hard to check facts with our cast. I've been adding the narration to the time line to get a final cut of the film together. Patrick has been hustling to finish the opening sequence, and work on other motion graphics. Annie Beth is waiting to get the rough cut from me to add the music. My marcomm and events planning team is starting to look forward at the coming months, and we are all making plans for what happens after we submit the film to the first festival.

Things are moving quickly. That deadline is closing in on us. Good things are taking shape. And the future is quite bright. But all of that excitement about the film rests in the shadow of a very real possibility that positive changes could take shape as a result of sharing this story.

The pressure is on to finish the film. The pressure is on to represent this story well. The pressure is on to keep encouraging positive change in the world.

Pinch me. How'd I get to be so lucky to do this work? I can't wait to share this film with you.

The pressure is on.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Deadlines to the Left, Deadlines to the Right

This weekend I'm working towards another deadline: finishing the rough cut so that I can send it to my music supervisor and motion graphics guys. They'll start adding the final finesse to the film, and making it look like a real film. It's very exciting!

We've been working on the rough cut for ages, but now that we have the narration recorded and in place, it is all coming together well.  This post will be a short one because there's much work to be done this weekend.

More updates coming soon, my friends!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Talk at NCSU's Global Sustainability and Human Development Class

Last night I was lucky enough to give a talk to graduate students at N.C. State University in Dr. Bob Patterson's class Global Sustainability and Human Development. What a wonderful evening of discussion with some incredibly intelligent and kind folks!

The talk was about Abandoned Allies and the main issues the film addresses--namely the abandonment of our allies after the Vietnam War and what has happened since then. I talked briefly about the Montagnard people and our film's production, cast members, and future plans. When we started talking about current affairs, things got really interesting. How I wish it were recorded!

These folks asked excellent questions, and helped me think of many things that will become increasingly important once we finish production. My mind is so focused on wrapping production, that it's almost difficult to transition into the next stages: branding, marketing, communications and activities/efforts related to the issues. Our work won't end with the film has been completed; no, the work will continue long after that.

The conversation last night was really energizing. It gave me even more hope that this little film of ours could lead to positive change. The issues are quite complex, and for nearly three years now I have been obsessively thinking of ways that our audiences can take action after they see the film. For the most part, though, I have been at a loss as to real solutions that could lead to change. I think this is not because there are no solutions, but mostly because I have had a real learning curve about so many things and that constant state of chaos is what is truly overwhelming.

Anyway, I know that I need to identify steps that can be taken after the film is finished. No one wants to watch a film that presents a problem, and never offers a solution. (That type of thing was never allowed in our house when I was growing up. If you complained about something, you had to offer a solution to the problem.) So, how do we facilitate positive change?

Our cast members have talked about a way to publicly honor the Montagnards, and I think this is something that should definitely happen. It could take the shape of a monument in DC near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or somewhere in N.C. where people can come visit it. Or it could be a traveling exhibition, sharing information about the Montagnards and capturing/collecting information about their culture. This first part is a way to honor and support the Montagnards in North Carolina through awareness that leads to conversation that leads to change.

The second part would be supporting the Montagnards in Vietnam, who are still being persecuted for being American allies. How could we positively influence that change? It seems like a big thing to take on, and quite honestly I don't have the answers to those questions. My cast members tell me that trading with Vietnam is essentially supporting a Communist government that is harming our allies. The comparison one cast member uses is, "You don't give a dog a bone so that he'll quit biting you. What will he do after that? He'll bite you again to get another bone." So do we continue trading with Vietnam? Is foreign trade inherently tied to human rights policies or not?

The conversation last night was really helpful because these are things I have been thinking about for so long. I'm not a political scientist, and I don't know enough about foreign policy. But I can help facilitate conversations.

A few of the students chatted with me after the talk, and we have been emailing since then.  It would be so wonderful to have their help thinking through these things. There's a lot of work to do, and it's impossible to do it alone.

I'm so grateful to Dr. Bob Patterson, his students, and Ms. Astra Barnes for inviting me to join them last night. As I suspected, they taught me so much more than I could ever share with them. I wish them all the best of luck in their studies in Global Sustainability and Human Development.

Happy Birthday

One of the most important people in my world is celebrating a birthday today.  Thousands of words could be written about how wonderful she is--as an artist, teacher, entrepreneur, and role model. 

To me, she is beautiful.  A source of strength, guidance, comfort, wisdom.  She is one of the reasons I dream big.  As they say, you have to cast off the lines and sail away from the safe harbor to find adventure.  She is one of the reasons I think that's even possible.  She isn't afraid to try something new, or dare to do something big--and she has sacrificed a lot so that I can do big things, too. 

Yes, thousands of words could be written about this fascinating woman.  For now, I'll simply say:

Happy birthday, Mom.  I love you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Meeting Joan Darling

Lea-Ann Berst, club president of BPW/Raleigh, and Joan Darling,
one of the first female directors in Hollywood, at the BPW/Raleigh
dinner meeting on Tuesday night.
What a wonderful evening I had Tuesday night, thanks to Lea-Ann Berst (@MarketSleddogg) of Sleddogg Marketing Management.  

Lea-Ann is a woman I truly admire and appreciate. She's the club president of BPW/Raleigh, a nonprofit that strives to support and educate women in business. Lea-Ann was kind enough to make sure I knew about last night's October dinner meeting because of Abandoned Allies.

The meeting featured Joan Darling, one of the first female directors in Hollywood who worked on plenty of shows you'd recognize: M*A*S*H*, MARY TYLER MOORE, TAXI, and MAGNUM P.I. She was nominated four times for an Emmy and twice for a Directors Guild of America award; winning one Emmy and one DGA award.

And guess what?  She's also an improviser.

Her speech was about a lot of things that made my heart soar.  I wish I had it on video so I could watch it repeatedly. I could listen to her talk for hours.  

During her speech I found myself mentally interviewing Joan Darling on-camera about her life. She is absolutely fascinating, and I feel she has a great story to share with women in business. Darling graciously gave me a printed copy of her speech and some advice when I met her after the meeting ended. What a thrill it was to meet her!

Joan Darling has literally done what I dream of daily.  She has done everything from improvisation, acting, directing, teaching and is now finishing up a book. From Broadway to Hollywood, she's experienced so much--yet is generous, kind, humble, feminine and caring.  She's a big deal, but doesn't act like it.

Thank you, Lea-Ann, for the shout out during the meeting, and for being so kind to extend a personal invitation to Tuesday night's dinner meeting. It is something I have been happily reliving all week long!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recording Session with Bill Leslie

Today we recorded the narration for Abandoned Allies. What a thrill to have this completed!  

Our voice talent is Bill Leslie (@wralbleslie), a talented musician and anchor at WRAL. He is so professional and kind.  We are so lucky to have his voice in our film.  When he started reading today, I literally got goosebumps.  It's wild to watch this project come to life, and take on a life of its own.  What a thrill to hear Mr. Leslie read the narrative script!

Bill Leslie. Photo from WRAL.com.
Greg Elkins, of Desolation Row, recorded the session for us to be sure the audio is of the greatest quality. He hears things I don't, which is great.  You want someone like that on your team, folks.  Let me tell ya.  

I'm so grateful to both of these men for lending us their time and talents. A very special thanks to Sally Smith and Greg Hutchinson for connecting us to such talented people.

With the narration complete, we'll now be one step closer to picture lock.  This means that we have all of the interview clips in order, and they aren't likely to be rearranged again.  (I'm tweaking it to death.)  Once the final cut takes shape, we'll add the music, lower thirds, subtitles, opening segment and end credits.  At that point, it'll start to look more like a finished film than a bunch of talking heads.

Once we finalize the film and submit it to a festival of choice, we can start to work on the things like branding, marketing, communications, event planning and such.  I predict these efforts will start taking shape in early 2011, and am really looking forward to it.

You know how to make a film great?  Work with awe-inspiring people who are kind, professional, smart, and talented.  Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are, but aren't afraid to give you honest criticism.  This, I think, is one of the keys to making films.

What an honor it was to work with our committee of people to make sure the script was right, and all of the folks bringing that script to life.  I'm so grateful to all of the people helping us create Abandoned Allies.

Stay tuned, folks.  This film just keeps getting better.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lunch with Jim McQuaid

Today I had the pleasure of eating BBQ with Jim McQuaid (@TurnipVideo), a fellow filmmaker who lives in the Triangle.  He came bearing gifts of film making wisdom, and his films on DVD!  I'm so thrilled to have my hands on his latest work, Eight Lessons in Living Together.

Earlier this year, Jim and I cohosted a networking event for filmmakers.  (Here are some photos from the event.)  He's also been super supportive during these recent months when I struggled a bit with life and the balance of making my first film.  He recently offered to join me for lunch so we could chat about film making, and I'm so thrilled he did.  It was just what I needed, and I'm so grateful for his company and words of advice.

It was really fun to hear him talk about Eight Lessons, and his plans for the film now that it's finished and on DVD.  (Psst, you can buy a copy here, which would make him quite happy.)  He's got "a good head on his shoulders" as my dad always says.  It was so helpful to hear about his plans for the film, and future events he's planning.  (He's working on something fun for January, which I'll share with you when more info is available.)

Working at Designbox has helped me realize something very critical: I'm a people person.  (Duh.)  This isn't really news to me, but it's an important lesson for making future films.  I like, crave, and need to be around other people in a balanced way.  Coworking from Designbox has been such a great gift!  I'm so humbled and grateful for the opportunity.

These past months have kept me holed up in a room editing video, and I think that made me a bit sad.  I got caught up in a vacuum.  Editing video and being in the same room, alone, for hours on end...this is not one of my strengths.  But it is work that needs to be done.  What a joy to be doing this work from Designbox now.

Thanks for the lessons, Jim.  I'm looking forward to watching Eight Lessons!

Day Four of Coworking

This is the second week of coworking from Designbox, thanks to shovemedia.  I'm thrilled to be here again, working on the finishing touches to Abandoned Allies.

Our big priority this week is finishing the narration.  Last week I hustled to finish the script, sent it to a few of our trusted advisors, and combined the edits to make sure it's an accurate representation.  I'm sending that to our voice talent as soon as possible, as we have a recording session scheduled for tomorrow.

This is thrilling news because it means that we can get even closer to picture lock, which means that we can then add things like the lower thirds, subtitles, and music--you know, the things that make it look and feel more like a film.  After those things are in place, we'll add the opening segment and the end credits to have more finalized rough cut!  I can't wait to get to that day, and hope that it comes very soon.

We're still hurtling towards the pre-Thanksgiving deadline.  There's much work to be done, but I think we'll get there.  This team is a great one, and I have confidence in them.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Being Grateful

Earlier this week I scanned some photos taken in Vietnam by one of our cast members in the 1970s.  After I scanned the image, I spent some time on digital imaging to make it look a little better.  Within an hour, I had about 20 images scanned, cropped and edited.  As I closed Photoshop, I smiled and thought to myself, "Wow, I am so glad I studied graphic design and photography.  This could have taken a lot longer to accomplish otherwise."

There are moments like that throughout each week, where I do something quickly and almost effortlessly.  It has become such a wonderful feeling to be in familiar territory!  After the task is complete, I pause with gratitude and delight in actually knowing how to do something well.  It's a private moment, but one I relish because I've lived in such chaotic space for so long trying to figure out new things for Abandoned Allies.

Oh, how jealous I am of students studying film in school!  The lessons I'm learning daily while making Abandoned Allies are priceless, but it certainly would have been grand to know how to swim before jumping in the deep end as I did so willingly in 2008.

That's the thing, though.  You don't know how to swim without getting in the water, right?  (Surely there's a country song about that, or I'm quoting some piece of literature without realizing it.) 

The truth is, quite honestly, that making this film is one of the most challenging, rewarding and frustrating things I've ever tried to do in my entire life.  But if I can finish this one, then I can make the next one better.  And the next one better.  And the next one better.

This week, alone, has been incredibly productive.  For that I am also grateful.  Perhaps I'll save the rest of the list for a Thanksgiving blog post.  After all, it's right around the corner!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Script Writing

Writing this narrative script is one of the most difficult things I've had to do for Abandoned Allies. Words that typically flow easily for me just are not coming.  The words that do make it to the page feel contrived and questionable.  Why has writing this script been so challenging?

Currently I'm taking a break from it because I've been at it alllllll day long, for two days now, (no, make that months, and probably a whole year that I've been working on it).  I'm ready to pull my hair out.

Writing for this blog is a welcomed relief from the script.  But I'm desperate for sleep tonight so I have to make this a short post.

The narration feels incredibly important.  Perhaps I'm putting too much weight on it, and that's stifling the flow of writing?  I rarely get writers block, and I know that it's impossible to prevent mistakes.  You're just bound to make them as a first time filmmaker.  So, what's my deal?  I'm so frustrated right now.

We have a recording session set for next Tuesday.  I'm scheduled to send the script to a few trusted folks to be sure it's an accurate representation.

Translation: beautiful deadlines are forcing me to quit nitpicking, and finish the thing.  I love deadlines.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Let the Coworking Begin!

I'm coworking from Designbox to finish Abandoned Allies.
Today is my first day of coworking from Designbox (@DBRaleigh), and I'm thrilled to be here thanks to shovemedia.  Everyone has been so welcoming!

It really is a thrill to escape my little home studio and set up shop in a space like this one.  Most folks think that you should be able to work anywhere--and you can, for the most part--but a space like this changes the game.

Don't think your desk is important?  Watch this short documentary, which my friend Matthew Hayhurst (@mwhayhurstpointed out recently.

A desk is a very important thing.  Working in an environment that encourages creativity makes a drastic difference in the work you produce, especially when you're surrounded by other creative people.

For the past few months, my home office has been less than inspiring.  This is for a number of reasons too boring to write about, but let's just say that the way I had it set up leaves one aching for escape.  It was messy, cluttered and smelled a lot like my dog.  I worked on making it better this weekend, but it still needs some help.

Who knew my physical space could be so stifling?  It's not a bad space to work in, but it definitely left me blocked.  I woke up this morning feeling like a kid on Christmas Day, and I couldn't wait to get to the gift waiting for me.  It is such a gift to be at Designbox today, knowing I can keep working here for the next 30 days to finish Abandoned Allies.

Buckle up, folks.  It's going to be a wild ride.  Let the coworking begin!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Get Fired Up

Illustration by Camden Watts
With the news that I won the shovemedia contest, I have been so thrilled about the reality of finishing Abandoned Allies.  This office space, deadline and encouragement is exactly what I needed--without even knowing it.  I'm so fired up about wrapping up the film and showing it to people that I can hardly sleep at night.  There's so much work to do, and very little time to finish it.

We have only about five weeks before Thanksgiving, which is when I hope to have the film completed. 

The Full Frame film fest submission deadline is November 30th, and I want Abandoned Allies to be entered.  That means we could, hopefully, show the film at the festival in April 2011.  (Hopefully!)  This would then, in turn, give us enough time to prepare for our own premiere event to take place weeks after the festival (more on that in future posts).

While April 2011 feels very far away, Thanksgiving feels like it's just around the corner.  This is both thrilling and terrifying for me, because I so desperately want to finish the film before the holidays. 

It's my belief that our volunteers shouldn't feel stress about working on Abanadoned Allies during the holidays.  It's time they might otherwise be spending with family, resting from being so busy, or working on their own projects.  So I hope we can hustle and have the film in tip top shape and submitted to the festival before Thanksgiving gets here.

That said, it's time to get fired up!  There's not much time, and we have lots of work left to do on the:
  • Opening segment
  • Narration
  • Motion graphics
  • End credits
  • Music selection / composition
  • Branding
  • Marketing and communications
Over the course of these next few weeks, with the help of my very talented crew, this little film will start to feel much more like a Film (with a capital F).  We'll be adding the final finesse, finally!  I'm beyond thrilled.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Giving Credit

Yesterday I worked on the Abandoned Allies closing credits, among other things.  It felt good to check that task off of my list, but the sheer terror of having left someone out is enough to keep me up at nights.  So many talented and kind people have helped us make this film since March 2008 that the closing credits list was four pages long (single spaced).

Today I relayed that information to a friend.  She responded, "Wow. That's almost like a real film!"

Indeed.  Just imagine how long our next production's closing credits will be, if such dreams become reality.  I look forward to having many more people on the team.  There's room for them, for sure.  I want people in charge of photography, audio and editing.  Perhaps a personal assistant or an assistant director.  There's definitely room for many more people to help on the next production, and I'm thrilled about building that team when the time is right.

For now, though, we have a mad dash to the finish line ahead of us.

With the news that I won shovemedia's 30 days of free coworking contest, and will soon start working from Designbox, I feel a renewed sense of energy.  I can't wait to start working there!  

Our team is already gearing up to have the film finished before Thanksgiving so that we can relax and enjoy the holidays.  Not to mention submit Abandoned Allies into the Full Frame film fest.  

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I'm looking forward to having the film finished.  Once we meet that Nov. 30th deadline, we can move our focus to branding, marketing, communications and event planning.  

I'm keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that Abandoned Allies will play at the Full Frame film fest in April 2011.  Wouldn't that be wonderful!  It's a North Carolina production about North Carolinians, produced and directed by a North Carolina native.  I'm such a geek, I know.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Great News: Shovemedia Coworking Contest Results

Friends, I have some delightful news to share. Recently I entered the shovemedia contest to win 30 days of free coworking at Designbox, and today I received confirmation that I won! This is great news, as it means we can finish Abandoned Allies much faster.

Shovemedia, a boutique interactive development studio, is sponsoring the 30 days of free coworking.  I sat down with Jon Williams of shovemedia to tell him about our project, where it currently stands, and how we plan on finishing it within those 30 days.

It's an ambitious goal to finish the film within the next month, but it's definitely possible.  We are so close to finishing it, and having the use of this space will make a huge difference.  I am positively ecstatic about working on the film at Designbox.

Designbox is a really cool space in downtown Raleigh where creative people can come to work. They have fun First Friday events, like the PBaRt show and concert.  Designbox members feature, encourage and nurture creative people so they can do impressive things; but they also make it easy for the public to learn about the creative work and its results.  Check out some of their photos.  Here's what the website states about Designbox:
Designbox is North Carolina’s influential spot where unique creative professionals share space and work together. Located in downtown Raleigh, N.C., the members of Designbox have been nominated and won many national honors in their respective fields. Designbox is responsible in part for nationally recognized events such as SPARKcon, Kirby Derby Day, Xtreme Suburban Endurance Events and helping the City of Raleigh redevelop City Plaza.
Working on the film from Designbox will help me stay focused, motivated, and encouraged.  I'll be able to lead my team much more efficiently and effectively, meaning we can finish the film much faster.  Entering the film into the Full Frame film festival before November 30th is my new goal, and I'm counting on it happening thanks to shovemedia and Designbox.

Scope out this stop-motion promotional video Jon did for the contest.  I loved hearing him talk about the production of the promotional video.  Very cool stuff, indeed.

Designbox Promotion from Jon Williams on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tonight on PBS

Photo from PBS.org
Another one of my Full Frame Film Fest favorites will be broadcast on PBS tonight.  The film is titled The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.  Check here for your local listings: http://www.pbs.org/pov/tvschedule/.

The film was a delight to watch at the festival this past April, and I hope you'll watch it tonight.  Here's the synopsis listed on the PBS website:


In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a leading Vietnam War strategist, concludes that America’s role in the war is based on decades of lies. He leaks 7,000 pages of top-secret documents to The New York Times, a daring act of conscience that leads directly to Watergate, President Nixon’s resignation and the end of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg and a who’s-who of Vietnam-era movers and shakers give a riveting account of those world-changing events in POV’s The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers by award-winning filmmakers Judith Ehrlich (The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It) and Rick Goldsmith (Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press). A co-production of ITVS in association with American Documentary/POV. (90 minutes)

There are many aspects to the Vietnam War.  Too many, in fact, for us to delve too deeply into much outside of the narrow scope of our film.  We explore the relationship between the U.S. Special Forces and loyal American allies known as the Montagnards.  Watching The Most Dangerous Man is a great way to learn a bit more about the era and history of the war.  But don't stop learning, there.

I encourage everyone to seek the truth, not just digest what is presented by one entity.  Learn to seek the truth independently.  Knowledge is appreciated more when earned in such a way, and helps you draw your own conclusions and make more informed decisions.

After you watch the film tonight, be sure to tell us what you think of it!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Roller Coaster of Filmmaking

This is going to be a good week.  I know it.

Last week was a tough one.  I struggled a lot, which is not something I usually admit publicly.  We're human, though, and the struggle is part of the story.  I feel like these struggles I have are so minor, and that it's poor form to admit that you're struggling instead of just shutting up and carrying on.  Keep a stiff upper lip, you know?  Whining about stuff rarely changes your situation.

While last week was a tough one in some regards, it was also really fun.  I got to see friends, enjoyed some delightful improv, watched Restrepo, and even spent the day at Kings Dominion with people I adore.  Saturday was especially therapeutic.

At Kings Dominion, we rode roller coasters all day.

At Kings Dominion, we rode roller coasters all day!  I love roller coasters!  The thrill, nervousness, and terror that comes with riding a roller coaster is relatively insane when you think about it.  Why are we intoxicated by such safe and scary adventures?  I'm probably addicted to the adrenaline rush. 

It's one of the things mentioned in Restrepo, actually.  One of the guys says something like, "Once you've been shot at, there's no high like it."  Now, I've never had anyone shoot at me (thankfully), but this year has taught me a bit about the psyche of a soldier returning from combat.  I can't fully understand it, but I can empathize with it. 

Our cast members talked about it a lot, both on camera and in the books they published.  A soldier's priorities--during combat--is the mission at hand, protecting your fellow soldiers, and keeping yourself alive so you can come home safely. 

The intensity of being in combat becomes standard.  The heightened awareness, intense danger, and consistent adrenaline rush becomes the way of life.  The peace of being at home presents few things close to the intensity of combat (even though they're grateful to have arrived home safely).  I think that's a bit of what Hurt Locker explored, too.  Soldiers start to feel like they're better at being in combat than being home.

There are so many tangential things like this that I feel compelled to explore, but our film isn't about that specifically.  It's about the U.S. Special Forces soldiers and their relationship to the Montagnard people, and how all of that relates to today. 

There are so many extras that we could include on a DVD.  I look forward to finishing the film and, hopefully, still sharing those extras because they are important parts of diving deeper into this story.  First things first, though.  Finishing the film.  Speaking of which...I've got work to do.  Talk atcha later, friends.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Laughter is the Best Medicine

As some of you know, I've been in a fairly rotten mood lately.  Ohhh, my poor friends and family.  They are taking the brunt of my Storm of Crankiness.  I promise I'm usually a really cheerful person, but these past few days have been tough. Everything that's been frustrating me lately seems to be coming to a head all at the same time.  It's madness.

Anyway, last night I attended an improv show with my friend.  It was exactly what I needed, and really helped me forget about some of the madness for a while.  I came home so happy.

This is the poster for the improv show I attended last night.
Improv and I have had an on-again / off-again affair since I was in high school.  It's been almost a year since my last improv performances with a team, and even longer than that since I did a short form show.  We have a grand time together, and I miss being a part of that. I'm terribly addicted to improv.

Right now a lot of my energy is going towards finishing this film, trying to keep my home (and office) in order, and various means to pay the bills.  But I do hope to return to improv very soon.  It's the perfect mix of terrifying fun.

When I got home from the show, I started watching the first episode of the latest season of SNL, and guess who's face should be the first that I see?  Vanessa Bayer's smile came up on screen immediately.  I've become a big fan, after seeing her perform in Chicago at a number of places, including Second City.

Uhm, I also recognize that she probably has absolutely no clue who I am, but I'm still a big fan.  We met, very briefly, a number of years ago in Chicago.  She was performing with Dan Sipp, who has since become a very encouraging improv teacher / coach for me here in Raleigh.  I was in Chicago scoping out the city, visiting old friends, and watching entirely too much improv, and stayed a few extra days to watch Dan's team perform together one last time before he moved to North Carolina.  They all went out for drinks afterwords, and she was very kind in making sure I felt included.  I was a total tag-along because my travel partners (Chris Moore and Carol Machuca) had already flown back to North Carolina.  Oh, what a fun trip we had together.

See why I love improv so much?  The people are such fun.  They are some of the people I hold very dearest to my heart, no matter how eclectic and dramatic the bunch may be at times. 

Each time I walk into the club, I feel like I've returned home.  That's a very rare feeling in this world--to feel like you can walk into a building and be home.  It's not the building that matters, it's the people inside it that welcome you with a warm embrace each time--no matter how long you've been away.  I genuinely adore my ComedyWorx improvisers, and the ones I have met through that extended family.  They are a rare, delightful bunch.

Thank you for the medicine last night.  It was exactly what I needed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Case of the Mondays

Today is Monday.  And it feels like it.

I woke up in a great mood, so what happened?  

I feel like I should say something positive, but the words aren't coming.  I feel like I am making progress on the narrative script, but then I reread what I've written.  I'm left with disgust at my own words on the page.  I'm my worst critic, and my friends constantly remind me of that.  I want this to be right, excellent, accurate and ... great.

It's raining and dark outside.

I feel like the weather matches my mood.  

It's a scene where a character faces a challenge (or is sad or whatever) so it's raining outside.  That rarely happens in real life, right?  It feels scripted, but it's actually real life...

Summer is starting to fade now that it's the end of September.  That makes me sad for a number of reasons.  I feel alive during summer and am not ready for winter's harsh, dead and cold days.  I'm not ready for it, and I'm having a little temper tantrum about something that's totally out of my control.  But it's not just the weather.  

Things have been a struggle lately, and I find myself growing very weary because of it.  I've been facing one challenge after another with enthusiasm and excitement because I'm doing what I love--filmmaking.  I'm so humbled and grateful to be working on it--genuinely so.  But lately things have been a struggle, and I would be lying if I didn't document that here.  This blog was supposed to be the "diary of a documentary," right?  It's not all glory and good things.  It's a real struggle sometimes.  I have a solid believe that those struggles make you stronger and smarter--no matter how much I am pouting right now.

My outlook is bleak today.  But I get to do what I love, and for that I am very grateful.  That makes it feel a lot less like a Monday.  So...enough complaining.  Back to work on something very near and dear to my heart: Abandoned Allies.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

RESTREPO is playing at the Galaxy Cinema in Cary, NC

Image from Galaxy Cinema's website.
Earlier this year, I wrote about attending the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, N.C.  I will always be grateful to those of you who funded my attendance at the festival.  It really taught me a lot, and showed me ways to become a better filmmaker.  One of my festival favorites is now showing in Cary, N.C., and I encourage anyone interested in docs (especially those about war) to attend.

The film is superb.  The Galaxy Cinema lists this synopsis on its website:
Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for a Documentary, RESTREPO chronicles the deployment of a U.S. platoon of courageous American soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, considered to be one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. From May 2007 to July 2008, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger dug in with the men of the Second Platoon, Battle Company of the 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne), stationed at Restrepo, sharing duties and shooting more than 150 hours of combat, frustration, routine, jokes, terror and bravery during daily life at the outpost. Hetherington and Junger, have made a film unlike any other about men in harm's way. We see their courage. We experience their frustrations. We share their bonding. We hear the music they listen to, and we see the snapshots of their kids that they pass around. It is something that audiences have never before experienced. As they fight the Taliban, these 15 men win our hearts and minds in a way no fictional film can.

The film is playing at the Galaxy Cinema in Cary, N.C., through the end of September.  View times online here.  Tell me what you think when you see it; I'm always curious about your reactions.  Oh, and here's the trailer if you want to see that.

Monday, September 20, 2010

David Crabtree's Interview with Ret. Gen. Hugh Shelton

On Sunday morning, I awoke to the sound of David Crabtree's voice.  My alarm clock is set to turn on the radio, and this particular morning Crabtree's interview with Retired Gen. Hugh Shelton came on.  Shelton has just been named chairman of Red Hat, Inc., an international company headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., on N.C. State University's Centennial Campus.

The interview woke me up immediately, as Crabtree ran down Gen. Shelton's qualifications: nearly four decades serving in the military, two tours in Vietnam, leader of the 82nd Airborne, commander of Special Ops, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff serving Presidents Clinton and Bush.  Perhaps it was the local flavor that was the icing on the cake: a small-town eastern North Carolina native and an N.C. State University student. 

Take a few minutes to listen to the interview, as it's quite interesting.  They talk about the things that make great leaders, both in the military and the corporate world. 

"Great leaders are the same in the military as they are in the corporate world. They have the same values: integrity, ... great character, ethics... They use those same attributes to lead their corporation," he states. 

This is a similar concept shared in the first chapter of Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in corporate leadership and what makes ideas stick.  The role of leadership in the military and corporate world is something that endlessly fascinates me, and the interview with Gen. Shelton touches on it briefly.

Gen. Shelton also comments on the things happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan, which directly relates to our film.  Abandoned Allies explores the Vietnam War era, but through the lens of what's happening today. 

Our economy is still weak, making it tough for many Americans to focus some attention on the war overseas, but it's something I feel that we can't afford to ignore.  Gen. Shelton's thoughts on the differences between winning and succeeding during war are great, and I appreciated his thoughts on nation-building as well.

Have you listened to the interview?  What were your reactions?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Defining Home

For the Montagnard people, home will always be in the central highlands of Vietnam.*  It is their ancestral land. That's just a simple way of saying that many, many generations of Montagnard tribes have lived there.  It means they have a connection to that land in mind, body and spirit.  Being from the South, this isn't too difficult a concept for me to grasp.

There is an unwritten rule in the South: you aren't Southern unless you can trace your roots (How many of your relatives are from the South?) or you can provide a birth certificate to prove you were born here.  Even then you may not qualify.  Living here for about 30 years won't earn you the title of being a Southerner.  This isn't to be insulting, mind you, it's just the way of things.

Southerners take pride in being Southern.  We like knowing the names of our ancestors, how they got to the U.S., when/where they fought in what war, and who farmed what plot of land over the centuries.  We like our big, wrap-around porches and the rocking chairs lined up on them waiting for guests to visit.  We like our traditions, unwritten rules, and even spotting outsiders.

Have you ever seen a Northerner try to adjust to Southern life?  Seriously, we don't mean to be rude.  It's just amusing to us because life is so dramatically different here, and outsiders remind us of the differences.  And because we're Southerners, we'll welcome most outsiders with home-baked treats and a sweet smile.

You see, every group of people has their own traditions.  There are professionals who study that kind of stuff, and I think a part of me always wanted to be an anthropologist.  I'm rather fascinated with human interactions.  And I think that groups of people have their own languages, cultures and what-not because that's the way it's worked for thousands of years.

There are things that interrupt that way of life, though.  The Vietnam War caused one of these shifts for the Montagnard people.  They loved the central highlands, and had lived there for thousands of years.  Then they fought with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War in hopes of retaining their rights to their ancestral land--no matter how war ravaged it may have become.  Now the Montagnards in Vietnam are still facing persecution for being American allies.

See the shift?  They can stay there, try to live peacefully and still be persecuted, try to change policies there and still be persecuted, or try to escape to seek refuge.  They were our loyal allies, and we aren't doing much to help them--at least not that I have discovered.

So some of these Montagnards flee to the jungles, escape from Vietnam, and seek refuge in the United States if they can get here.  It's a very long, difficult journey just to get to the U.S.--sometimes taking many years and lots of terrible challenges that I can hardly grasp.  One fellow told me about sleeping on corpses in a graveyard to escape the Vietnamese.

When these Montagnards finally arrive in the U.S., they find a whole new set of challenges awaiting them: a new way of life, new land, new people, new customs.  Yet they keep pushing forward, towards a better life for themselves and their loved ones--most often smiling the entire time.

Each Montagnard that has been kind enough to chat with me talks about their home land.  They may have arrived two years ago.  They may have arrived 15+ years ago.  One thing remains consistent: they love and miss their home land.  Each one is grateful to be here, living in the land of their allies, yet each one longs to bring peace and prosperity to their people that still live in their homeland.

My Google Alert sent me a link to this article today: Home Is Where the Communication Is by Etsuko Kinefuchi.  The author writes about these things in a much more scientific way, which I enjoyed reading.  The article touches on a lot of truth, at least as I have seen it in the years I've spent working on this film.  Find 5-10 minutes and read it, then tell me what you think.

Have you ever left your home land?  Was it scary or adventurous?  What did you learn?  Have you ever welcomed an outsider to your homeland?  How?

*I recognize that not all Montagnards feel their home is the central highlands.  That statement is a generalization, and there are those that have adjusted to life in new countries--this is the nature of things.  Humans adjust.  But, for the most part, among the people with whom I've spoken--home will always be the central highlands for the Montagnard people.  That land is a part of their life, culture, and way of being.