RMIT's Master of Media - Honourable Mention for Non-fiction Proposal
'An 87-year-old Vietnamese war veteran goes on a quest to search for his former English teacher in Australia after 60 years with the assistance of his grandchildren.'
My grandfather Mai (87 years old) is a war veteran who once served in the Vietnam war as a North Vietnam’s (NV) intelligent agent, and made his contribution in the country’s unification in April 1975. He is a quiet, humble and emotional man, who is now still living well and healthily in his hometown Hanoi, Vietnam. Before he even became Colonel in General Department II (North Vietnam’s intelligent service), he was taught English by an Australian tutor named Lilian Diamond. Mrs. Diamond and her lovely family came to the country in around mid-1950s to offer their assistance to the Vietnam’s National Radio Broadcaster during the war, and become Mai’s (and other colleagues) first and only English teacher. The English skills Mai acquired from Lilian changed his life. It significantly supported him in the later years serving in the war, in retrieving enemy’s information and interrogating American captives.
After the war, Mai carried on the legacy by becoming an English teacher himself, inspiring generations of Vietnamese children, including myself. Mai knows without saying that he owes Lilian greatly for his achievements. Unfortunately, because of political complexities, Lilian had to return to Australia in 1960 without a farewell, giving away the chance of seeing Mai and her students ever again. After the war, Lilian still tried to keep them in touch by sending many mails and postcards, however, due to the isolation of Vietnam to the rest of the world and the overly-skeptical young government, they were forbidden to reply or communicate with their Australian teacher.
As he now believes that Lilian might have passed away, Mai’s biggest grief is to never have the chance to show his gratitude and repay his teacher.
THE DOCU/REALITY SERIES
The docu/reality series named ‘The Teachers’ tell the story of my grandfather Mai on the search for his Australian teacher many decades later, with the assistance from his grandchildren (me and my wife) and of course, modern technology. It would be broadcasted online over the course of around 12 episodes with 5 minutes per each. It would focus on the struggles and difficulties of finding a person with only limited information in a different country, at the same time unfolding how Mrs. Lilian Diamond influenced the ups and downs in the life of my grandfather as an ex-intelligent agent.
The beginning of the series will be set in Hanoi, Vietnam, with Mai recollecting his first encounter with Lilian, his English teacher during the war. The first obstacle would be to obtain the Australian’s holiday visa, in order for Mai to go on the quest in person.
However, regardless the success of this, Annie (my wife) and I will go on the quest with or without Mai. In the (unlikely) case he is not granted a visa, we would communicate the progress of the investigation via the use of technology (Skype, Google Maps).
In the next episodes, after we travel to Melbourne, Australia (my current home), we would be met with various obstacles and difficulties. The first attempt to find Lilian is through the internet, with websites like YellowPages, PersonLookUp, etc. We would be making phone calls all over Australia to gather information. However, talking to countless strangers over the phone for several days, repeatedly getting rejected to talk to would be tiring and discouraging. Moreover, we would be contacting people online, sending e-mails and setting up a social media page with tiny glimpses of hope of getting any responses. Running parallelly with the search are interview footages of Mai telling the stories and memories of Lilian (recorded in Vietnam before the quest).
As the series progress, we escalate the investigation by hiring a professional investigator to help us find information. We then fly to Sydney in order to contact and get information from the National Office of the Communist Party of Australia. After that, we move to Tasmania (Lilian’s hometown) for around a month to continue the search. We would be driving around the state, asking local authorities and offices for information. During this time we face the difficulties in spending time on the road (especially for Mai, an aged person whose health might struggle to cope with this lifestyle), getting cooperations from the offices and accomplishing little to no results. At the same time is the story of Lilian’s influences on Mai’s life during and after the war. By this time the social media campaign attracts more awareness and interactions.
The intensity and pace of the series rise in the last episodes where time is the ultimate obstacle (a holiday visa is only effective for 3 months). By this time we have a clearer look at the outcome of the investigation, after the meeting with the investigator, replies from local offices, emails and social media campaign. The investigation is escalated even more intensively in order for the characters to overcome the time limitation.
Meanwhile, in the pre-recorded interview, Mai reveals the importance of finding Lilian’s family to show his gratitude and his optimistic desires for the seemingly impossible quest.
If we are eventually successful in finding Lilian’s home and family, we would give them a visit and hear Lilian’s stories through her beloved family members. Most importantly, we would focus on the emotional, belated “reunion” of Mai and Lilian at the cemetery. On the other hand, if the investigation ends without success, we would be traveling home satisfied regardless, knowing that we have given everything and have our story told. We would then focus on the reunion of Mai and his family in Vietnam, of how he is emotionally ready to put the past behind and be wishful for the future.