Theresa Loong’s intimate and humorous documentary about her father, Paul Loong, who was a POW in Japan during WWII and subsequently embarked on a long journey to become an American citizen, will air on PBS stations this Memorial Day weekend. “Every Day is a Holiday,” will be broadcast on the New York stations WNET/13 on Sunday, May 27 at 2:30pm and WLIW21 on Sunday, May 27 at 5:30pm.
My dad says that he has lived two lives, but I think it’s more. He has sailed to Iran as a merchant seaman, driven a tank over exploding kimchee vats in Korea, and survived two prisoner-of-war camps in Japan during WWII. You wouldn’t know by looking at him – I only found out after I saw a curious scar on his back and I started asking questions.
One day, my dad showed me a secret diary he kept while he was a prisoner of war in Japan during WWII. I was shocked; also excited, and touched. Why show me now? It was like a window into his nineteen-year-old mind, into his soul.
Interviewing him was a way for me to spend time with him and to listen and learn. My friend jokes to me that making this film was like my version of attending film school. In many ways, she is correct. It was not easy making a documentary about a family member, but I knew I had to do it. Here are some tips from my experience.
3) Define a Clear Editorial Vision
4) Work around Obstacles
Patience – It took me years of interviewing my dad to get him to open up to me. When I finally had the courage to show him a clip from the film, he said, “It’s the truth.” I was incredulous. Why did he think that I, his daughter, might not represent him appropriately? So even I had to earn his trust.
Sensitivity – I did not realize until recently how hard it is for my dad to share these painful memories. When he goes into the past, I look into his eyes and it seems like he is transported in time, back to that moment. When that happens, it can be exhausting for him. We’ve had a few sessions where he got annoyed with me, asking me to shut off the camera. Who can blame him? I wouldn’t want anyone following me around to capture intimate moments when I’m in bed or relaxing at home. So when it was time to stop rolling the camera or to take a break, I would do so.
Define a Clear Editorial Vision– I had an idea of the film I wanted to make – a film shot as naturally as possible, combining archival footage and verité shots, that would convey a powerful message about freedom, immigration, and family. I enlisted the help of editorial consultants and a great film editor, Kristen Nutile, to help me realize this vision. I also had to let go of my ego a little. My dad wasn’t wearing makeup and dressing up, so I didn’t, either.
Work around Obstacles – Do not take ‘no’ for an answer. Learn new skills if you do not have them, or hire someone who has those talents and learn from them. I ended up partnering with the Independent Television Service, the National Educational Telecommunciations Association, and Kentucky Educational Television. My father did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. So even though I live in New York and my folks live in New Jersey, I found a great mentor and presenting station hundreds of miles away.
What makes it all worthwhile? A quote like this one, on our Facebook page:
“Thank you and your dad for this wonderful story that inspires us all to live a full life.”
Every Day Is a Holiday will be broadcast on WNET/13 Sunday, May 27 @ 2:30pm and WLIW21 Sunday, May 27 @ 5:30pm, with additional public television broadcasts around the country. For additional showtimes and information, visit the Every Day is a Holiday facebook page.
About the filmmaker:
Director Theresa Loong is a filmmaker and interactive media professional based in NY. A Feet in 2 Worlds food reporting fellow, she has exhibited at the SVA, Teriennale di Milano and Círculo de Bellas Artes. An honors graduate of Harvard University, she taught at NYU’s SCPS and is on the board of directors of The FilmShop.