Hello everyone, my name is Sophie and I’m an intern for VDC. Over the next month or so we will be releasing interviews with the crew of The American War and as a little introduction, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my trip from New Zealand to San Francisco to work with the team behind this great film.
I met Daniel Bernardi whilst he was teaching as a Canterbury fellow at my university in Christchurch, New Zealand for the Cinema Studies program. During that time I decided that this interesting, experienced person was someone I wanted to keep in contact with and so with that in mind I asked him to take me on as an intern. After doing a bit of work whilst Daniel was in Christchurch, we parted ways with a promise to work together again. Fast forward a few months and it was decided: I would visit San Francisco and spend five weeks doing some work for Veteran Documentary Corp.
Upon arriving in San Francisco I had the very great privilege of staying with Dr. Steven Kovacs, a brilliant and kind man who happily let me, a stranger, live alone in his house before he’d even met me. The view from his sweet yellow house was amazing, overlooking the suburbs all the way to the sea. At the beginning of my trip I made it a habit to sit on the couch and watch the sunset colour the skies with orange, pink and gold. Also, Steve is just casually a member of the BAFTAS and so had a lot of films still in cinemas just sitting on his DVD player with the words “For Your Consideration” neatly printed at the top of each disc. Oh and he’s been nominated for an Oscar. Suffice to say, my new home was ideal in every way.
Every day I would head to the San Francisco State University campus and make myself comfortable in Daniel’s office, where I spent my time researching film festivals, transcribing interviews and trying to decide which book to steal off Daniel’s shelf for the day. I met with each of the crew individually, to have a conversation about their personal experience working on the film and what cinema means to them.
After doing my morning work I would bug Carolina Gratianne, VDC’s resident co-director and general woman wonder, to join me for lunch, and by that I mean I walked three steps to her office and popped my head in the door and she would say, “Lunch?”. I quickly became familiar with the range of food establishments at the university – American food is so cheap! After a falafel pita or a bean burrito, I’d return to the office to continue thinking of ways to promote Veteran Documentary Corps’ first feature length film The American War, a cinematic journey into the personal perspectives of Vietcong veterans. I can’t wait for you all to see this film; it’s a beautiful and thoughtful treatment of true stories that are confronting, almost unbelievable and yet ultimately showcase a narrative of forgiveness.
As part of my trip, I attended three classes at SF State: The Aesthetics and Politics of Violence with Dr. Steve Choe, Post-Colonial Cinema with Dr. Jenny Lau and Digital Practices with Dr. Randy Rutsky, each of which provided me with a chance to meet SFSU students and gain some knowledge not offered at my own university. Offering my own perspective as a mixed race woman from another country provided for some really interesting discussion in the intimately sized classes. I really enjoyed the theoretical aspect of the classes and am very curious as to how the MFA students are going to work some quite dense theories into their creative projects. Highlights of these classes include watching Even The Rain for the first time (it’s on Netflix, please watch it!), discussing Judith Butler’s work in great detail and hearing from the other students about their passion projects.
I’d like to say that I have a different perspective of San Francisco than every other person who visited but truly my favourite things about the city are the diversity of cultures, the always sunny weather and the architecture (ranging from the candy coloured houses to, yes, the Golden Gate Bridge). San Francisco seems to be a city where everyone is making a film and more than once I spotted a cameraman hoisting a big camera on his shoulder as I passed by. Much of my free time was spent catching the Muni to different parts of the city to explore, and some days I was given personalized tours of places like Chinatown or Sausalito (thanks Dan and Jim). I attended a cabaret for charity, an astronomy lecture at the Planetarium, went to the Ballet, walked Lands End and discovered so many tiny, quirky stores and cafes.
Overall I found that fitting in to American culture was easy, which is hardly surprising considering how much New Zealand media is saturated with everything U.S.A. I already knew that Target is America’s equivalent to the Warehouse, that everyone drives on the wrong side of the road and that hot chips are just fries. The thing I found the most difficult was the fact that with every purchase you have to add tax on top, and then if you’re eating out you have to tip as well! I like that at home I know if I buy a burger it’s going to cost me exactly $11.50, not $11.50 + $1.75 (tax) + $2.00 (tip). America, you’re doing capitalism too well. But still, the burger was worth it.
All in all, during my time I met some wonderful people, got to participate in some interesting work marketing an important film and had a refreshing first experience of the land of the great.
Many thanks to Daniel Bernardi for taking my throwaway comment about making a trip to San Francisco and rolling with it – thanks for bringing me aboard the team! And to Carolina, for being my constant companion, for making me baked camembert on Valentine’s Day, for letting me ride shotgun in your Jeep, and for all the great conversation and inspiration. Finally, thanks to Stephen Hardman from PACE for organising funding for my trip, to Alan Wright for bringing Daniel to New Zealand in the first place and to Steve Kovacs for letting me stay.
You can keep up with my daily goings-on here.