With the Florida Film Festival opening April 10th, we have selected a handful of filmmakers to showcase and discuss their films.
By Jacob Engels
Our interview with War Within the Walls filmmaker Courtney Marsh. The film screens during the My Life in China segment on Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 17th, more information here.
What is War Within the Walls about and what is your background?
War Within the Walls is a documentary short film that follows a group of disabled children living with the effects of Agent Orange in the back of a Ho Chi Minh City hospital. The film focuses on Chau, who despite his disability, dreams of one day becoming a renowned artist and clothing designer. Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, FL, I was very focused on athletics and spent four years as an All-State Cross Country Runner at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. However, my senior year, two of my best friends passed away in a car accident driving to Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights. This startled my world and it was then I decided to pursue what I had always been hesitant to: filmmaking. I was accepted to UCLA’s Undergraduate Film Program and after graduation, worked in the industry for five years as a Camera Assistant and Digital Imaging Technician gaining more knowledge that would hone my skills as a director.
Explain your motivation behind wanting to make this film.
After my first year in film school (2007), my friend, Hai-Lam Phan and I had an intense discussion over the plight of the street kids in Ho Chi Minh City. These young kids survive by selling lotto tickets in the city beginning when they are as young as six or seven years old. Long story short, this was a film I felt needed to be seen, from the eyes of these young children. I wanted to create an honest and experiential film. However, once we got over to Vietnam and were granted approval by the government to shoot, a TV producer approached us and brought us to the Tu Du Peace Village, a camp that cared for children affected by Agent Orange. I was twenty-one at the time and had very little knowledge about Agent Orange. The effects were unlike anything I had ever seen. Once I was there, I felt we needed to stay at the camp and volunteer without cameras for at least two weeks. We did just that, got to know the kids, got to understand the workings of the camp, and then, with the kid’s and nurses approval, began filming.
Do you think the effects of Agent Orange, and the chemical itself is something largely forgotten by most Americans?
Unfortunately, I do think it is something that is forgotten by many, especially my generation. The war is over and we tend to dismiss it as such. But the choices made then are still in effect now. The result of Agent Orange spraying is a dilemma in both Vietnam and the U.S. and it is still very alive amongst Veterans. Though some would argue the Vietnam War is a dated subject, it tends not to make the headlines, but as long as we acknowledge and understand the long-term effects of chemicals in everything from war to our food, this knowledge can help us in future situations.
Toughest problem you faced while filming?
In 2007, the toughest part of filming was my lack of the Vietnamese language. Directing a film in another language is not an easy feat because you must feed off of the interviewee’s emotions and intonations to be able to unearth the most critical information. It’s not always what someone says but how he or she says it. And since I would see the emotion before I heard the translation, the way I conducted my interviews tended to work a bit backwards. Also, Vietnamese is a very poetic language so certain metaphors don’t cross over as easily to English. I needed to trust that my translator didn’t miss out on any little detail or clue, and that the answer would be usable in editing.
What makes War Within the Walls a must see for festivalgoers at the Florida Film Festival?
This is a point of view that has never been shown before. War Within the Walls stays honest and true to the kids’ perspective and how they see themselves rather than just how the outside world sees them. Because I was only a few years older than Chau and the other kids, we had certain likenesses that allowed us to bond and trust each other. I became an observer but also a part of the clan. If I were older, I am not sure if I would have been able to capture this perspective properly. And while the subject matter remains dark in its own respect, I follow up with Chau, an aspiring artist, seven years later to see where he is. He is a true inspiration and a testament to the unconquerable human spirit. We can all benefit from his closing words in the film.
How can people follow you and the film? What’s on the horizon?
You can definitely support us by something as simple as giving our Facebook Page a ‘LIKE’. Our Official Page is www.facebook.com/warwithinthewalls. These days with social media, a ‘LIKE’ goes a long way and the greater our audience, the more of a chance we have to screen at universities and festivals in order to spread awareness about this topic. By following us on Facebook, you can see Chau’s latest work, which he sells on a regular basis, as well as participate in raffles and events we are trying to set up, where proceeds go directly to Tu Du Peace Camp. I can also be contacted through my personal website www.courtneynmarsh.com. In the meantime, I traveling the festival circuit with War Within the Walls as well as a narrative short called ZARI, while writing my first feature screenplay.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org