YIDFF 2011 International Competition
Distinguished Flying Cross
An Interview with Travis Wilkerson (Director)

My Father Was Not a War Victim

Q: I felt a certain humor in the scenes of your father telling his Vietnam War experiences to his two children. Did you prepare at all before you shot them?

TW: We didn’t rehearse at all; my father’s own words made this film. I didn’t direct him or ask him to talk about anything in particular. I wanted to show what he had to say, his emotions as they were. That said, it could be that these past 30 years he had been nursing this story, rehearing it inside his head so he could tell it someday. I filmed this work over a 15-hour period, and he talked the whole time.

Almost all of the film’s scenes are filmed in a fixed shot of the three of us, with our father in the center, but twice I change to shots of my younger brother. I wanted to capture his fresh reaction as he listened to my father’s story, as well as the expression of my father’s response. Perhaps because I’m the oldest son, I had already heard my father’s war stories little by little. But it seems he didn’t talk about these things with my younger brother. I still don’t understand why he didn’t tell my mother either, and waited until then to tell my brother.

Q: In the film you use color film shot by soldiers at the time, don’t you?

TW: When looking in the National Archives for material that would fit the piece, I fell upon a roll of 16mm film. It was shot during the Vietnam War by unnamed soldiers, and there was no record of it being used before. Of course, the men who shot it weren’t professionals, nor had they studied film. Nevertheless, I was surprised by how much artistic value their images had. They were uncrafted, born from an extreme situation of war, and they moved me. I felt as if my father’s experiences were directly represented in this footage, which no one had known existed until now, as well as in the soldiers that appear in it.

Q: How did you see your father when he talks about his war experiences?

TW: My father is not a war hero, but neither is he a victim. That said, he was in the midst of that miserable war. Many of the soldiers who retired after the Vietnam were seized by psychological issues and prolonged trauma. Yet my father has no regrets of his experiences in Vietnam. Rather, he feels the army was one of the places he belonged.

By contrasting tense images of the Vietnam War with upbeat music, my intent was to emphasize the point that my father is not a victim. Just as there can be merry moments in war, which is generally thought to be anxiety inducing, many different kinds of people returned from the Vietnam War. My father wasn’t drafted; he applied to the army in order to become a pilot. I think he had pride in his work, and in a sense loyalty toward his country.

Q: Who do you want to see this film?

TW: I think it’s important to pass things from the past to the future, from father to son. At the moment I am unable to screen this film in the United States, but I hope to someday be able to deliver it to audiences across the country.

(Compiled by Ishii Tatsuya)

Interviewers: Ishii Tatsuya, Suto Hanae / Interpreter: Shimizu Kikumi / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Tanaka Miho / Video: Onuma Ayaka / 2011-10-07