An Intern’s Perspective

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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.

Exploring the National WWI Memorial & Museum

Exploring the National WWI Memorial & Museum

by Jesse Sutterley

The National World War I Memorial and Museum sits in the heart of Kansas city. Daniel Bernardi, VDC Director, Trevor Getz, San Francisco State History Chair, and I, San Francisco State Undergraduate, traveled to the museum with the purpose of finding new sources for a film project focusing on the United States’ involvement in the war. Our team has been funded by the National Cemetery Administration to create five short films and a feature length documentary following the lives of soldiers and nurses serving on the front lines as well as their journey home as U.S. Veterans.

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As we entered the memorial we crossed a glass bridge that hovered over a field of 9,000 blood red poppies, each poppy representing  1,000 soldiers that perished in the brutal fighting of the First World War, coming to a total of 9 million deaths. Although beautiful, the poppies are somber, reminding patrons that millions gave their lives in a war that would shape the 20th century.

One of the most stunning portions of the museum is the life size trench that sits just below a viewing deck. The trench may be as close as anyone may get to visualizing the war torn French landscape. These trenches would be filled with men like John Henry Balch, a U.S. Marine and pharmacists who happens to be one of the soldiers we are focusing on in one of the short film. Balch served in the battle of Belle Wood and later would serve in the Second World War.

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At the bottom floor of the museum is the research center where there is a large collection of secondary sources. Behind a layer of glass is the archive room. Here, photo albums, diaries, posters, and delicate fabric materials are kept in the highest condition. We met with Jonathan Casey, director of the archives, who walked us through the personal belongings of soldiers from all walks of life. The archives are pristine and holding the photo albums and diaries of soldiers and nurses brings the war even closer to home. These were people just like us and these documents are the last remaining pieces of them left on this earth.

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The Kansas City World War I Museum and Memorial is a beautiful and well thought out display of the First World War. It is a reminder that freedom and democracy come at a cost, 9 million men and women, 23 million wounded or scarred for life, and the complete destruction of the French countryside. With these documentaries we hope to breathe new life into the stories of those that served and inspire others to investigate and research the war. The National Cemetery Administration works to connect us with U.S. soldiers buried in cemeteries around the globe. Our goal is to make documentary films that can be used in classrooms around the country to help students better understand the human costs of the First World War while honoring those that gave their lives for their country.

 

For more information about our projects, like us on Facebook or find us on Twitter

https://www.facebook.com/veterandocs/

https://www.twitter.com/veterandoccorps/

 

VDC Wraps Production in Israel

We are excited to announce the completion of production on the feature documentary Objector, directed and produced by Molly Stuart in association with Veteran Documentary Corps. Molly (current Cinema MFA student at SFSU) and cinematographer Andrés Gallegos (recent SFSU Cinema MFA graduate) have just returned from a month of filming in Israel and Palestine. Objector follows a young Israeli woman, Atalya Ben Abba, who refuses to serve in the Israeli military and is imprisoned for her objection.

This round of shooting is the third and final phase of production, in which the short version of the film is expanding into a feature-length documentary. The extended film will go beyond Atalya’s initial protest to cover her imprisonment and transformation into a public figure. It will also take a broader look at the growing network of Israeli conscientious objectors who are critical of their country’s occupation of Palestine

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(Director, Molly Stuart, with Associate Producer, Amitai Ben Abba)

During the past month, we (the crew of Objector) had the privilege of interviewing people from across the landscape of resistance to Israeli military service, including secular Israeli conscientious objectors, ultra orthodox anti-draft activists, and Druze Palestinian refusers. We heard from Atalya’s family members who represent various parts of the Israeli political spectrum. And we witnessed Atalya’s experiences building a new life after imprisonment and finding her place in the ongoing struggle.

Trump’s recent declaration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has inflamed tensions throughout the region, demonstrating the importance of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity now more than ever. As American filmmakers, we understand that we are intricately connected to this conflict and have a responsibility to amplify the stories that can lead to peace.

During our time in the Middle East, we also shot a short film about an Israeli veteran turned anti-war activist, Guy Hircefeld. In this film, director Andrés Gallegos explores Guy’s transformation from a soldier to a strong critic of the military who regularly comes face-to-face with soldiers in defense of Palestinian rights. Guy’s current weapon of choice is his video camera, which he aims against Israeli settlers who regularly attack Palestinians or attempt to expropriate their land. Through this volunteer work, Guy has built a powerful archive that he and other activists use to hold the army accountable to their own laws.

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Director, Andrés Gallegos, with subject, Guy Hircefeld.

Stay tuned for the release of both films within 2018.

Veteran Documentary Corps in LA

Last week, Veteran Documentary Corps (VDC) kicked off its film tour in Los Angeles. Funded by a California Humanities grant, the tour consists of 5 film screenings that aim to promote the humanities by engaging audiences with a program of 4-5 short films produced by Veteran Documentary Corps. These films are the result of pairing a filmmaker with a veteran in a collaboration that aspires to spark a dialogue surrounding the veteran experience.

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Photo by Violet Gratianne 

The first screening was held at UCLA in the James Bridge Theater during Professor Brook’s lecture on documentary films. Four short films were shown to a large group of students (all ranging in age). The films were followed by a Q&A led by VDC’s Director, Daniel Bernardi. The participation was incredible, which was the product of astute questions followed by authentic answers. Out of all those in attendance, 90% said they would recommend the event to others.

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Photo by Violet Gratianne 

The second screening was held at the Echo Park Film Center (EPFC) for the 17th Annual Human Rights Film Festival. In the eclectic room that is the EPFC, 5 VDC films were screened in front of a diverse group of filmmakers and activists. Co-Founder of EPFC, Paolo Davanzo, introduced the Q&A, which was headed by VDC’s Associate Director, Carolina Gratianne, and veteran filmmaker, Bobby Hollingsworth. The audience expressed their approval of the diversity of the films; moreover, they insisted VDC continue to seek out the voices of those who are underrepresented (i.e. transgender, homeless, etc.).

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Photo by Violet Gratianne 

The response to VDC’s time in Los Angeles was positive. Some people suggested that VDC continue to screen at colleges, while others even urged VDC to reach out to high schools. A few voiced how essential it was for these types of events to be held on a regular basis. Overall, everyone understood how crucial hearing these veteran stories are in opening the dialogue between veterans and civilians. VDC eagerly looks forward to continuing its effort in advancing such dialogues.

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Photo by Violet Gratianne 

For more information about future events, follow VDC on Facebook and Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/veterandocs/

https://twitter.com/veterandoccorps

 

Images by:

Violet Gratianne

CalHum Humanities for All Project Grant

Veteran Documentary Corps is honoured and excited to announce that we have been awarded a Humanities for All Project Grant by California Humanities (http://calhum.org/grants/humanities-for-all) for the project “Reel Veterans. Reel Stories”.

For this project, VDC will screen five short films, each about ten minutes, at five different locations over an eighteen-month period, with the goal of generating thoughtful and compassionate conversation about veterans. Special consideration will be taken to invite and include those who are active in the military, and their families.

“Reel Veterans. Reel Stories” is about the people behind the uniform. Each documentary is focused on the story of one veteran. The focus of these narratives range from the “don’t ask, don’t tell” campaign, to conscientious objection, to the journey through post traumatic stress disorder. At the core of each of these films are intelligent, thoughtful questions from both the filmmaker and the subject such as: How ethical are my actions? What does it mean for me to be participating in this process? What difference am I making? These questions are universal and as such the films retain a quality of approachability designed to make the viewer consider the journey of each veteran.

The “Reel Veterans. Reel Stories” films aim to showcase how veterans use art, documentary and critical thinking to contextualize their experience in the military. It encourages the audience to use the same approach and really engage with the material through Q&A sessions, which are held at the end of each screening. As part of this, at least one veteran and one filmmaker from the assorted films shown will be present at the screening, in order to answer people’s questions and facilitate discussion. The filmmakers and veterans will vary from city to city.

 

For more information, like us on Facebook or find us on Twitter to keep up to date.

“This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit http://www.calhum.org.”

VLP: Embracing Meaningful Education

As Veteran Documentary Corps at San Francisco State University gets ready for it’s first Veteran Legacy Program screening, we asked our National Cemetery Campaign Evaluator, Christina Sabee, to reflect on this veteran project. Here, she explains the importance of making meaningful connections through oral history, and why student involvement plays a crucial role in the program’s success. 

Embracing Meaningful Education 

By Christina Sabee, PhD

I remember learning about war from a textbook back in elementary and even high school.  It seemed like fiction – these were stories that seemed so far away from my own privileged experience that it was challenging to think through how the lessons we learned would influence my own life.  Like many others, it wasn’t until I engaged my grandfather to talk about serving during World War II or my own father about being drafted during Vietnam, that I really felt engaged, and understood the incredible sacrifice that our veterans make and the important reasons that they do so.  Those stories of real people in my life stuck with me better than any of the lessons I learned from my textbooks.

Teaching history in an engaging and experiential way is challenging because most of what we have available is text – but many educators are increasingly experimenting with using historical films to introduce personal stories and experiences to learners of history.  And really, using film to establish empathy with particular characters becomes increasingly relevant for a generation of students who might experience much more on the screen than their older counterparts.

But the Veteran Legacy Project has gone even farther than creating films that illuminate the experiences of our veterans.  We engaged students in the creative process of producing these stories so that other students could learn from them.  In my capacity as a project evaluator, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from our student creators, and look forward to learning from our student viewers, about their own experiences and insights engaging in this process.

The student historians and filmmakers engaged in a process that had them collaborating about the narratives of veterans from very different perspectives, and it seemed clear that both groups had a deeper and richer experience because of that collaboration.  While the professor advisors in this process (Professor Trevor Getz in History, and Professor Daniel Bernardi and Carolina Gratianne in Cinema) developed learning goals for their students that were specific to history and cinema respectively, their students went beyond the professors’ goals and came together to create films resulting in a truly special understanding of each others’ contributions to the telling of veterans’ stories.

Student producers of the films paid special attention to the final presentation of the narratives and had what they describe as a real-world professional experience. The care that they took in polishing and presenting these works is something they are proud of, and they should be.  Beyond the experiences in this project, I hope these students carry with them the importance of what they have produced and appreciate the impact that their creations can have.  Stories stick with us and color our understandings of important historical events.  Perhaps like me, other learners of history will feel more engaged and appreciative because of these students’ work.

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 Photo by Hannah Anderson 

 

 

 

VLP: Connecting With Our Youth

During the Spring 2017 Semester, 3 K-12 Teachers in Bay Area Schools partnered with VDC to create lessons for students about the national cemeteries located in and around San Francisco, including field trips to the national cemetery sites (i.e., either San Francisco or Golden Gate Cemetery). Each one of the school groups represented a commitment from school leadership, strong connections to academic standards in English/Language Arts, History/Social Studies and ongoing interest in civic engagement through learning about our community’s veterans.

Connecting With Our Youth

By Judith Munter, PhD

April 2017:  The first group came from an after school educational program located in San Francisco’s historic Bayview/Hunter’s Point community, Urban Ed Academy.  The mission of this program is: “To provide adequate educational enrichment, family support and advocacy for struggling communities of color. . . to help students and their families succeed academically, improve social conditions and well-being to become productive citizens of their community.” The teacher and director of this program decided to focus the learning experience on study of the Buffalo Soldiers, exploring and discovering the historic legacy of African Americans in the U.S. military following the Civil War.

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Parents and community volunteers participated in Urban Ed Academy’s April 2017 field trip to the San Francisco National Cemetery, and feedback on the learning experience indicates community-wide interest in expanding the students’ and community’s knowledge about the important contributions of Buffalo Soldiers in U.S. military history. Grades: 3-6.

May 2017: From Pacifica School District, Vallemar Middle School’s 6th grade class integrated a unit on the national cemeteries into their English/Language Arts curriculum during the spring semester. They also participated in a field trip to the Golden Gate National Cemetery in May 2017. A total of 54 students and two teachers participated in the project, with a total of 56 learners. Student groups researched the life story of diverse veterans buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery. Their research projects included study and presentations about Medal of Honor awardees and other heroes from our own local community.

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Their teacher reported that the students shared interesting feedback and reflections after completing research projects and the field trip to the cemetery. Some were shocked at the age of death of the veterans they learned about, whether he or she was very young or very old.  One student wondered how her veteran went on to live so long after fighting in such a terrible war – this student thought it would be hard to go on with memories of the fighting. One student thought it was odd that a person could win an award for killing so many people.  One student compared his veteran’s story with a movie scene.  Many students made connections to family members who were in the military and/or fought in a war.  Some students did not realize that military people have died in events other than a war. They were all shocked when they saw how many grave markers there are at the Golden Gate National Cemetery.

June 2017: The third school partnership group was led by two 7th grade teachers from Alta Vista Middle School. These two teachers developed an integrated humanities lesson designed to connect English and History. The purpose of this interdisciplinary lesson was to engage students in the processes of interpreting and responding to the value of memorials. Students began by learning about various national cemeteries across the United States in history while developing their skills of describing a place through writing. Students had a chance to learn about the San Francisco National Cemetery, and to research various individuals and groups interred there. During their field trip to that site in June 2017, students had time inside the cemetery to begin capturing the spirit of these life histories and places in writing.

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After the field trip students considered key questions about why military history is important and how memories of these histories can be shaped and influenced. As culminating activities, the students designed, planned, and created models or blueprints of memorials to represent ideas, events, or persons they deemed important from the San Francisco National Cemetery (History). They also outlined, wrote, revised, and published poetry that captured the spirit of this site (English). Following here are selections from the 7th grade students’ poems:

In The Calm Of Death, the Light

by Sam Rothenberg

In the calm of death I see the light,

As I walk in this starry night

As I walk, I see the names in the stones,

All I can think about are the bones

In the calm of death, the light

 

The bones that are buried

Unhurried, unwearied, unworried,

The bones that are buried six feet down

Makes the cemetary feel like a ghost town

In the calm of death, no light

 

And then I see it, plain and clear,

As if it had only been a year,

This gravestone was perfect,

With no markings that I could detect,

This grave was perfect, well and kept

 

In the calm of death, there is a light,

A light so bright that it lights up the night

 

Solitary Soldiers

by Kokwe Dadzie

A sea of gravestones

in a pit of grass.

A prickly, painful,

pit of grass.

Thousands dead

Six feet under

Resting peacefully.

Their voices,

Their souls,

emotions,

and goals,

radiating energy

through my fingertips.

 

I can smell the sweet,

sweet scent of flowers,

Floating in the air.

Peonies, roses,

Buttercups, orchids,

All in tranquility

honoring the dead.

 

The birds sing,

Their songs of sorrow,

Whilst a wistful silence,

blankets over the

clear

blue

sky

of hope.

 

So as I sit,

Immersed in heartache,

for the

Dead

Deceased

Departed

beings,

who devoted their lives,

Their prides,

To our nation.

As if service to our country

Was why god had their creation,

I leave a part of me

With these bodies,

I leave my respect

My honor,

And lay it across the fine grass.
And walk away.