The American War Crew: A Conversation with Carolina Gratianne

Associate Director of Veteran Documentary Corps and a filmmaker in her own right, Carolina Gratianne is undeniably an ideas person. With an eye for detail and knack for problem solving, Carolina worked as a producer for The American War. We talked about the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking, new perspectives and the importance of veteran narratives.

So tell me how you got involved in filmmaking!

The short answer is that I’ve always been interested in it. When I was nine, I decided to make a short film for my mom as a birthday gift. It was me directing, editing and producing the whole thing on the family video camera while my brother and sister were the actors. In college, one of my professors was advising me on potential careers that I would be good at. We were making a list of pros and cons and she randomly said, “What about filmmaking?” I vividly remember walking away from that meeting having made up my mind about doing film. I was eighteen so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years.

Tell me a little bit about your job at Veteran Documentary Corps?

Daniel is the Director and I’m the Associate Director/Production Manager. I do a bit of everything, from the day to day activities to producing. I also do tasks like managing interns and doing my part in running the center.

And how do you like that compared to filmmaking? Do you prefer behind-the-scenes production work?

The cool thing about this job is that I’ve been able to do both. I recently directed a short film for VDC so I’ve done my own creative work. At the same time, I’ve done a lot of the pragmatic, day-to-day tasks such as budgeting. That kind of work is necessary. Without people working to get the permits and do the budget and set everything up, things wouldn’t get done. So I’ve kind of gotten the best of both worlds.

So you’re the most important person on the team!

I wouldn’t say I am, but in general, producers play an important role. They get the money, they make stuff happen, and then they just let people be creative.

And you enjoy being a producer?

I do. I also enjoy being a director, I’m kind of straddling both. Long term, it would be ideal to produce my own films. In the meantime, I’m happy to produce anything that’s VDC.

Did you enjoy the process of being a producer on The American War? Do you think it was a different experience from producing the shorts?

Working on this film was really rewarding. The process of seeing something you worked on go  from pre-production through production and then come to life in post is very satisfying. With The American War, there was that moment in post when all looked at each other and said, “Wow, we really have something here”. We didn’t realize how special it was until we saw it. It was an awesome feeling.

So you’ve been working on The American War since it’s inception?

I started working at VDC at the brink of the film’s starting process so I was involved in pre-production. I was responsible for getting everything they needed to go on the trip, from equipment, to visas, to flights. By the end of pre-production, I’d visited the Vietnam Consulate so many times that they recognized me by face! In the back of my mind, I was aware that things had to get done and the whole team was depending on it. Not just the team, but also the people who were already signed up to be interviewed in Vietnam. There is a lot at stake sometimes. Filmmaking can be very intense.

Do you have a preference between documentary and narrative film?

I don’t really, I enjoy both of them for different reasons. I think that fiction work lets you go to places that you wouldn’t be able to go in documentary; however, documentary has evolved so much. Beforehand, documentary was stereotyped as over-informative and a bit monotone and one-dimensional. Now, you can get so creative with it that you can really engage your audience with information without it feeling like just numbers and stats or research.

Do you think it’s important for a film like this to be told in a documentary format, as opposed to a narrative piece?

When people go to see documentaries they look at them through a lens of “truth” and that’s important when telling a story that hasn’t been the mainstream, American perspective. The Vietnamese have their perspective, and it’s important that it is shared on an international level. If this was a fiction piece of work people could write it off as “inaccurate”. However, this film interviews veterans. It’s a first person account mixed with actual war footage that we acquired from the Vietnam Film Institute. It’s a film that’s not only researched, but is being told through people who lived it. That’s really hard to refute.

I like that the film is subversive.

Yeah, absolutely, and it’s not about saying that the mainstream narrative is wrong. It’s just that there are always two perspectives and two truths and two sides. In a way this film is coming in and saying we’re not going to let you forget that there’s another perspective. There’s something really cool about the documentary form because it allows people to speak truth to power or speak truth in places that haven’t been before.

How do you think American audiences are going to react to this film?

That’s a hard question because it’s hard to gauge how invested a group of people are gonna be in a film. There are amazing films that for whatever reason don’t connect with audiences. However, this is a film that’s going to stand the test of time. Regardless of whether or not it connects now, it will connect at some point. If you’re interested in politics, if you’re interested in history, if you’re interested in humanity, if you’re interested in understanding why people have gone to war and the effects of war, this is a film for you. I think right now we’re in an era where people are understanding the significance of knowing the past so that we don’t repeat those same mistakes. Also, people are more open to documentaries these days. Before, documentaries were more for academia, but now we have Netflix doing original documentaries and people are invested. I can’t predict the future, but now seems like a good time for this film to be released.

So, where do you see yourself in the future, in terms of filmmaking?

Making films that are interesting to me. Here at VDC, we tell stories about veterans, and the more that we tell stories about veterans, the more I see the necessity of it, and it’s something that I can be really proud of. When we’ve shared these films, like when we’ve done screening, people really connect to them. Veterans are so embedded in our culture and society, and we need to pay attention to how we’re treating them. It’s so important for us as a society to understand how they feel when they come back from deployment, this organization helps facilitate that conversation. If we make these films for people to watch, maybe, just maybe, there can be a better understanding of this thing that is really hard to understand. If I can continue doing something like this in the future, then I’ll be happy.


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