American filmmaking couple Eric Neudel and Alison Gilkey are in Viet Nam from March 11 to 20 to present their TV documentary Lives Worth Living about the struggle for equal rights for people with disabilities, beginning after World War II and ending with the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. During their visit, they met with filmmakers in HCM City, Can Tho and Ha Noi and people with disabilities.
Neudel and Gilkey spoke with Culture Vulture about the documentary and gave advice to young Vietnamese filmmakers.
Lives Worth Living is a moving story about the disabled. Where did the idea of the film come from?
Gilkey: Eric met Fred Fay who is the gentleman using the wheeled bed and the mirror. Eric started talking to Fred and realised that Fred's story was fascinating and Fred himself was a genius. After spending months talking to Fred, we realised that they (the disabled) were the spokespeople for the disability rights movement. And Fred was key.
In bringing them all together, with one voice, they were more powerful. One voice was how they'd changed the world.
What challenges did you face when making the film?
Gilkey: First of all, it was trying to get people to understand that the history was interesting. It's a very rich history. It's just as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Trust was an issue.
We spent a lot of time talking to people to interview them, and give them an idea of who we are. So we wanted to interview them and turn their words, their story into something that we wanted to say.
Money is always a difficulty. We tried to raise money for travel and interviewing. Raising money was an issue.
What lessons did you learn from the disabled?
Gilkey: Determination. The power of determination and not giving up.
These people in the film, nobody was listening to them. The news media ignored them because they didn't think it was an important issue. But they kept going and were determined. That can change the world. That's what I took away from them. Never give up.
Why did you choose Viet Nam to present the film?
Gilkey: We didn't choose Viet Nam. Viet Nam chose us.
I think Lives Worth Living was chosen because the US Consulate wants to create a partnership with the disability organisations in Viet Nam, and this film gives them an introduction. It gives them a way of starting a conversation with the community here in Viet Nam.
As an experienced producer of TV programmes and movies, what advice can you give to Vietnamese so they can make quality films?
Neudel: There are many many things to do, but have very high production values. Make sure that you are shooting with a good camera, that you are recording with good microphones so that your production standards are high, and that you are lighting properly, so that it looks good.
Because it's very important for people to want to pay attention and they should not have a hard time hearing, seeing or understanding. It's hard for them to stay with it. That's one piece of advice.
Number two is have a good story. Have a good beginning, a good middle and a good end. And third is believing in yourself.
If you have those, a high production value, a good story, belief in yourself, you will feel encouraged to go on. — VNS