Saturday, April 10, 2010

Full Frame: Day 2

What a beautiful weather for a film festival!  Yesterday was sunny and breezy, and with the rain on Thursday night, the grounds have lost that all-too-familiar color of pollen.  Things are going well!  I can't tell you how much fun this festival has been--and how helpful it all is, as well.

Yesterday morning Dawn and I met for breakfast.  We had a scone and coffee before going to the first film of the day, "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" which was absolutely wonderful.  I saw a lot of familiar themes in the film related to happenings in D.C., and the story was told in such an entertaining way.  I could go on and on about it.  One of the producers did a Q&A after the film ended, and stated that the film would be released in theaters in May.  Be sure you get to see the film, it's awesome.

After the Q&A, Dawn and I had lunch.  I got the same thing I had yesterday because it was so tasty!  It totaled about $9, so to those of you whom helped me get here: THANK YOU!  You paid for my lunch so I could stay in the vicinity of the festival and not have to worry about bringing a lunch or going to get anything.  That translates into being more focused on watching a lot of documentaries.  It may seem minor, but it's a huge help to be able to grab something here quickly.

The day was really long, but most enjoyable.  I watched about four feature-length films, sat through the opening of one before skipping out to meet Dawn to see another, and attended a panelist conversation called State of the Doc.  The day disappeared all too quickly, and by the time I got home I was completely exhausted; but as one of the guys I met while waiting in line said, "This is about the only film festival where you can go home and sleep in your own bed."  So I'm very grateful for that!

I keep taking photos and uploading them to Facebook first.  They'll end up on the blog and Flickr soon enough, but if you want them more immediately, click here:

More updates coming soon, my friends!  To all of you who sponsored this adventure: THANK YOU!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Full Frame: Day 1

Today was the first day of the Full Frame Film Festival.  I got to Durham bright and early--and am so glad of it!  When I finally found the place to pick up passes, there was already a line forming outside.  As I walked up, the line started moving inside.  There was a bit of confusion and frustration among some of the attendees, but in a matter of minutes they figured it out.  

When I picked up my pass, they gave me a bag with lots of info inside.  As the volunteer explained how the process works, I turned to look for the line he referenced and saw Dawn walk up.  She's a fellow improviser and such a fun person!  We stood in line that morning, choosing our preferred films so that we could get tickets.  It was great to have a such a warm smile that early in the AM!  There were some problems at the box office, so we had plenty of time to catch up while they fixed the computer problems.  

After we got our tickets, Dawn and I crossed the street to see our first film at the Carolina Theater.  We waited in another line for a short time, and then the theater opened.  "The Wobblies" was the first film I saw at the festival, and it was very enjoyable.  

I loved watching how they introduced the characters, pieced together interview footage with archival footage, and especially the use of music throughout the film.  One of my favorite clips was of a man (a lumberjack) walking on logs as they floated downstream--so impressive!  They also had some very humorous moments, despite the film having a rather serious tone altogether.  The release year was 1979 and was directed by Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer.  It was interesting to learn about the I.W.W.

Dawn and I then sat down for a bit of lunch, which was incredibly tasty.  I was really excited to see some healthy options, and we got our food just before the rush--yet again just ahead of the crowd.  What great timing!  After lunch, Dawn and I went our separate ways so we could see films we really wanted to watch.

"Enemies of the People" was the film I was really excited about because it was about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.  I have been learning about them and how it relates to our film, because it's quite close (geographically-speaking) to Vietnam.  One of my cast members mentioned that a few Montagnards had trouble getting to the U.S. as immigrants because they were accused of being a part of the Khmer Rouge, so I'm still very interested in learning more (although you won't see any of that in "Abandoned Allies" because it's not one of our main messages).  I'll likely have to dedicate an entire post about the film, technical aspects, subject matter relevance and much more. 

It has been incredibly helpful to be so immersed in the world of documentary filmmaking.  You do research on your own, watch films, read about techniques, talk with people, etc, but to be at a festival where the air is filled with the energy of documentary filmmaking is totally different.  Seeing so many familiar faces today was also very rewarding!  I just love our community, and was so happy to see Jim McQuaid, Jennifer Evans, Joshua Steadman, and Phil Daquila today.  They are such fun people!

To those of you who made this adventure possible, I cannot thank you enough.  I've already learned so much that I can apply towards "Abandoned Allies" and I absolutely cannot wait to share it with you.  Ya'll are my heroes for helping me attend the festival!

Monday, April 5, 2010

US-Vietnamese Relations

Where to start, where to start...

This morning I read an article regarding U.S.-Vietnamese trade relations.  At a glance the article seems positive, but having worked on Abandoned Allies for two years now I better understand how this news article should be much different.

Read this article first, so you can follow along with the rest of this blog post.  When you return, we will continue...

First, let me preface this by saying that the matter is not really about politics, Republicans or Democrats, racial differences, or even differences of opinion about energy (especially nuclear energy, which is the basis of the AP article).  If you distill it down and look at the bigger picture you might see what I see: a big contradiction.  Try to stick with me on this for a while, I'll walk you through it.

The article states that the U.S. and Vietnamese governments signed an agreement that "may pave the way for U.S. firms to help build nuclear plants in the Southeastern Asian country."  Sure, that seems agreeable so far, right?  It could lead to prosperity for both countries, no matter how you feel about the use of nuclear energy.  Vietnam needs more energy, American businessed wouldn't mind building plants there, so the deal seems agreeable on the surface. 

"This is an important moment in our bilateral relations," U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said during a signing ceremony with Le Dinh Tien, Vietnam's vice minister of science and technology.
The problem, though, is that Vietnam is a communist government that has major human rights problems.  People are not permitted to speak out against the government.  Political refugees fleeing to other countries are being turned back, facing certain abuse or even death in some circumstances.  And yet our government is signing an agreement that is a "'key step' in advancing nonproliferation goals and developing the peaceful use of nuclear energy in Vietnam," Michalak said.

You see, here is a key fact.  Just last month, on March 11, 2010, the U.S. Department of State released a report on human rights in the world, stating that in Vietnam, the "governtment's human rights record remained a problem."  Our government officials are signing an agrement with Vietnam, knowing that the human rights record in that country remains a problem.  Here's the bottom line: our country is willing to trade with Vietnam, but not willing to require that human rights improve?
"Michalak said it was 'only fitting' for the former foes to deepen their cooperation this year, 35 years after the end of the Vietnam War and 15 years after they re-established diplomatic ties."
Yes, the U.S. and Vietnamese governments can work together.  Yes, our country can build connections with Vietnam.  Yes, this type of trade may lead to prosperity.   Yes, this can be a way to deepen our connections and re-establish diplomatic ties.  Yes, this seems like it's relatively positive.

Until you look at what this ultimately means.  By agreeing to trade with Vietnam, we thereby give them an unwritten approval to remain treating the people of their country so poorly.  The U.S. Department of State's 2009 Human Rights Report: Vietnam states that
Citizens could not change their government, and political opposition movements were prohibited.  During the year, the government increased its suppression of dissent, arresting several political activists and convicting others arrested in 2008.  Several editors and reporters from prominent newspapers were fired for reporting on official corruption and outside blogging on political topics, and bloggers were detained and arrested for criticizing the government.

Did you read that?  That means that if I were living in Vietnam, I could easily be arrested, detained, or abused for writing and publishing this blog post.  Because I live in the U.S., I have a right to criticize what my government is doing.  I have a right to say that we shouldn't trade with a country that treats its own people so poorly.  Criticizing my own government is a right that I have as an American citizen, yet how often do we actively do so? 

There must be a compromise in our relationship with the Vietnamese.  We, as American citizens, can tell our politicians that we do want to trade with Vietnam, but only if the human rights record improves.  We value life so dearly here in the States, so why are we turning our backs on the allies that saved American lives during the war?

This is something I did not fully understand until I started working on this film.  I don't have all the answers on ways to make improvements to this situation.  I love my country, and I want it to be a great one.  I see a contradiction between our belief in promoting human rights, but trading with a country that abuses the allies with whom we fought so long ago.

In the grand scheme of your daily life, I know this is not likely a priority.  I'm an optimist, but also a realist.  Most of you are thinking about what's for lunch or dinner, the relationships in your life, your promotion at work, or one of the other more pressing matters in your life. 

I ask only that you open your mind to the possibility that we can make change happen.  We can help make improvements for the lives of the allies we abandoned so long ago.  They're still waiting for us to keep our promise.  I'm so grateful to the cast of Abandoned Allies for taking the time to show me these things.  It's undoubtedly changed my life forever.
"Don't fail to do something just because you can't do everything."
- Bob Pierce