Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Rochester’

Documentary Film

August 13, 2011

On Skywalker Ranch and Sundance

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Last Thursday I filled out the application to submit Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. When I pushed the button to send off the application I felt…what did I feel? Relief? Yes, I felt relief, not like a great metaphorical weight lifted from my shoulders, but a sense of…of…yeah…we did this. We made this movie. We told this story, this old story. And it is old, a lot older than the forty-three years since the Siege of Khe Sanh lifted. This story is as old as mankind, I suspect. Death, fear, sacrifice, savagery. Everything one wants in a good action-adventure flick. But this story is true…or as true as can be after all the time for events to percolate, change, morph, be forgotten and then remembered.

It’s been a wild month. In late July we went to Rochester, MN and showed the film by private invitation first to a group of some of the interviewees and their spouses. Then we showed it by private invitation to a much larger group of men who survived the siege, or who were at Khe Sanh before or after the siege. In some ways, these are the most important audiences we will face, I think. Sure, this story is laden with messages that speak to all humanity about essential and timeless truths we seem to forget again and again. But the men in Rochester lived the essence of the movie and they would feel it more viscerally than anyone else.

After Rochester we proceeded to northern California and Skywalker Ranch to do the final sound mix. To observe longtime professional editors John Nutt and Mark Berger argue and wrangle over how the movie should sound made Betty and I feel as if they really cared.   They cared enough that they got emotional and scolded and sniped at each other, sometimes looking at Betty and me to see which one of them we agreed with.

The tension of the film mixed with the tension created by Mark and John’s disagreements made my torso hurt, like someone nipping at my skin with a sharp bayonet. But art—and even though the subject matter of Bravo! is somber, violent—it is still art. One of the things that helps create art is tension. Art, to succeed I believe, needs friction and conflict. Michelangelo’s art has tension whether it be sculpture or painting; so too, El Greco, and Picasso and Beethoven and Mick Jagger and Werner Herzog and Quentin Tarantino. The tension between Mark and John was part of elevating the art in Bravo.

And in Skywalker Sound’s Studio Mix E it was loud. The resonance reverberated off the walls, through the floor into the feet of the chairs and couches. It knocked pencils out of pencil boxes and—even though I have watched it so many times—surprised me, frightened me, regardless of the fact that I knew what was coming.

So…the movie is loud, and at times brash, speaks to indignations of living like a besieged rat; it is sad, somber, elevating, and in the end, redemptive.

Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion

July 26, 2011

On Rochester, MN

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Betty and I arrived in Rochester, MN with anticipation caught up beneath our lungs like gear jammed in a rucksack. What would these men of Bravo Company think about seeing themselves rendered on film like we had seen them…exposed, frightened, defiant, brave and glorious.

We were nervous. Excited. Even a little fearful.  Weather veered from hot and muggy to cool and windy, to rain, to overcast. The strawberry pannenkoeken were delicious, the Minnesota accents like cue balls clicking off the sides of nine balls. The Mayo Clinic loomed gigantic across the street and beckoned people from all over the world; all religions, and colors. The burkas, the kangas, the cowboy boots.

Every time I leave one of these Khe Sanh Veterans’ reunions I say I’ll never go to another. I have nothing in common with the other attendees but for the past experience of sitting in red mud waiting for the next NVA mortar to arrive. Waiting to live or die. Who needs those memories? Not that we don’t deal with thoughts and fears of the gulf between life and death all through our lives. But in our normal lives, life and death’s urgency gets kicked to the back of the six-by while we deal with traffic and bosses and spouses, children, the dog and cat, cleaning the garage. But at Khe Sanh, the conflict between living and dying clutched our throats moment to moment to moment. Like the hot breath of an Indochinese tiger pursuing us down the trail through a bamboo thicket.

We have nothing in common, nothing in common except….

But then the reunion date approaches and I become anxious and begin to remember forty-three years past and I begin to remember the reunion the prior year. Some men die between reunions, and I didn’t get to spend enough time with them. Some men don’t come back to the reunion, something made them angry, an incautious word may have stabbed them like a bayonet. It hurt. Some of us show up as if we are seeking things we lost and cannot find. As summer approaches, I need to move. I am drawn like a chunk of slag to a magnet.

As we showed the latest cut of Bravo! to the interviewees, I felt my heart hammer in my chest. Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they hate us for exposing them? Did we get the story right?

I think we did. Most said so. Some acted as if we had released over forty years of pent-up rage and fear. Some said very little. Betty and I choose to believe it was a success. We pleased the ones who mattered most.

Later, we showed it again to the greater membership of the Khe Sanh Veterans. I had similar fears, and different ones, too. Would they be angry because we didn’t include them in the movie? Would they find it credible? Again, the response was generous. Men and women had tears in their eyes; they gave hugs of gratitude to Betty and me. Not that some men didn’t have issues. They did, and if they didn’t I would wonder if the movie was really effective.

So now we are back home in Boise, getting laundry done and bags packed for the next leg of Betty and Ken’s fantastic journey. On to Skywalker Ranch, Marin County, CA to do the final sound mix.

I think we are almost finished with the movie. I hope so. I need to get shed of the nightmares this movie inserts into my dreams. Now we just need to get it seen.

Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion

July 20, 2011

Live From Rochester, MN

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Betty and I arrived at the Kahler Grand Hotel this evening. Rochester is choked in a heat wave we hope will break tomorrow. Across the street, the portals to the Mayo Clinic. The Clinic is a major force in this corner of Minnesota, and in medicine, a force in many other places. An interesting anecdote to the Mayo is that both Betty and I have relatives who were founding partners here. For Betty: Augustus Stinchfield, for me: Melvin Millet. The world may be populated by billions of folks, but in some regards the tentacles of the past and the present mingle in our lives in interesting and mysterious ways. Friday morning we show the latest cut of Bravo, Common Men, Uncommon Valor, to the interviewees and guests and donors, and in the afternoon, to other invited Khe Sanh Veterans. Both of us are apprehensive and excited and relieved, all at the same time.

Had dinner with old warrior mates this evening at Victoria’s Ristorante and Wine Bar. A lot of funny yarns about boot camp and early experiences at Khe Sanh.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to break in a good way. Other mates will show up. The memories good and bad will erupt and things I had forgotten will flash inside my recall. Things I thought I saw will be proven false. Things I thought I saw and then rejected will prove to have happened. Oh, memory. You are a fickle faculty.