Have you ever lost track of a friend, and reconnected decades later? Most of the time, it’s a nice conversation, a pleasant email exchange, and that’s it — not enough of a bond to rekindle an ongoing friendship. But once in a long while, the scenario plays out differently.
Recently, I had coffee with Joan King Widdifield, a director and producer of independent films. Joan’s focus is post-war unexploded bombs – how they blow up the lives of those around them, leaving some dead or maimed, others in pieces emotionally.
I met Joan decades ago, in California. I was a psychologist, teaching a course on Female Development. Joan was a psychology intern, enrolled in the conference. We lived in a small town in Northern California, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, five minutes from each other. We both had young children, who ended up in the same elementary school. Like most mothers with careers, we were always juggling more than we could handle, and we lost track of each other. More than twenty years later, she had no idea I had changed careers, and was now writing fiction. I had no idea she had become a filmmaker. We both had no idea we had moved 3000 miles, across the country, and again were neighbors. We met for coffee, and met again. I asked her permission to write this post, and she agreed.
Joan told me that in 2001, still living in California, she became aware that large portions of Vietnam still hold unexploded, buried bombs left over from The Vietnam War – bombs dropped by American soldiers. Deployed from planes and helicopters, or shot from launchers, many weapons don’t detonate and become “Explosive Remnants of War” (ERW), which can remain dangerous for decades. They include rockets, missiles, 1000-pound bombs, 500-pound bombs, mortars, white phosphorous shells, and cluster munitions (one “mother” shell opens in the air and hundreds of submunitions, or cluster bomblets, fly out to cover the size of a football field). About one-tenth of the 8 million tons of bombs dropped on Vietnamese soil failed to detonate. Today ERW cover about 1/3 of the land in the central provinces, populated by civilians. Children, men and women stumble into ERW and are blown up.
An unexploded bomb detonates without warning. Bodies are thrown, torn, sometimes in parts, sometimes in a bloody mist. Survivors have no preparation, no lead-time. Their lives are here one moment, scattered in fragments the next. Joan found “the horror of the problem…overwhelming.” She wondered how a parent “lives with the specter of ERW killing your child.” The direct victims explode physically, and are either terribly injured or buried in pieces. But the damage reaches even farther — their loved ones explode emotionally.
In 1982, Joan began working with survivors of trauma, and in 2002, her focus became victims of bombs in Southeast Asia. The more she worked, the more she realized that few people even knew this issue existed. In fact, just a couple of years before, she herself had been one of those people. “What I kept coming back to is: it is my country’s bombs.” Joan had never defined herself as a political activist, but that’s exactly what she became. Her professional focus turned toward raising awareness, and she continually felt driven to reach out, “to do more”.
She took classes in film school, and learned about documentaries. She studied interviewing, directing, editing. She founded Hearts and Mines, Inc., an independent production company. She put together a team, scrounged for funding, and boarded a plane. “It took four production shoots to make the 20-minute film.” The result was Rainy Season, the story of a Vietnamese family whose son exploded before their eyes.
The reception of Rainy Season has been extremely positive. Joan has presented her film at the United Nations in Geneva, and at film festivals in Paris, Brooklyn, and Edinburgh. Last year, Rainy Season won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Woods Hole International Film Festival, as well as Best Documentary Short at Asians On Film Festival.
The trailer for Rainy Season is available. http://vimeo.com/31804678 Joan is now in the process of raising the funds to expand this short documentary into a full-length film. A feature film would increase her audience, and “the more people who hear about it, the more comfortable they will be getting behind it.” The first step toward solving a problem is awareness that the issue exists. Joan is committed to taking that first step, and every step that follows.
If any of you want to contact Joan, she is glad to hear from you.
Joan’s email: HeartsAndMines@gmail.com
Joan’s handle: @JoanWiddifield
Website for Rainy Season: http://www.rainyseason.org
Joan King Widdifield, Psy.D.
Hearts & Mines, Inc.
Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk
Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable
Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.
Caroline Black, a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of therapy.