McDonald’s and Starbucks are open in Ho Chi Minh City — the name that replaced Saigon, and which Americans now say without a second thought.
Trade between the US and Vietnam is worth $30 billion a year. Relations are strong, and tourism to the land where war once cost more than 2.5 million lives has boomed.
But until recently, some people with much in common had no reason to meet: Americans whose fathers were killed in action, and children of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who died in the same war.
The emotional reunion between 6 Americans and 20 Vietnamese was captured by a film crew. Now, 150 hours of footage is being edited down to feature film length.
That task has fallen to Nora Kubach. The 2003 Staples High School graduate says it’s the most challenging and rewarding work she’s ever done.
Like many of her generation, the Vietnam War was ancient history. She had no reason to wonder about the children — now in their 40s and 50s, much older than she — whose lives changed forever with enemy fire. Most Americans of any age, in fact, give little thought to the sons and daughters of veterans. And even less so to those from the other side.
But in December, the 2 Sides Project brought them together.
Kubach’s route to the editing room was circuitous. A Staples field hockey, volleyball and softball player until sidelined by injury, she spent her junior year of high school in a study-abroad program. She discovered acting in Switzerland, then as a senior traveled to New York every weekend for Stella Adler classes.
Kubach majored in theater at NYU’s Tisch School. But acting is a cutthroat profession, so she looked for ways other than performing to pursue her passion for telling stories, being creative and helping people.
She found work with a video communications team in Washington, DC. That led to a job with Anthony Istrico, who hired her for his studio.
Client Margot Carlson Delogne was organizing the first formal meeting between American and Vietnamese children who’d lost parents in the war. (There are an estimated 20,000 in the US, and more than 70,000 in Vietnam.) Istrico offered to help with a film — pro bono.
The trip was remarkable. (Click here for a New York Times story about it.)
Now Kubach is racing against a self-imposed Memorial Day deadline to turn raw footage into a compelling film. She’s editing, writing, finding themes and threads, and crafting the story into a narrative documentary.
“I learned a lot,” she admits. “At first I thought this would be pretty straightforward — 2 sides meeting each other.
“But there’s so much more. All of them grew up not being able to talk about the war. Their stories were left behind. Now they’re sharing them with each other, finding common ground. This was an emotional and learning process for everyone.
“For me too,” Kubach adds. “I’ve learned a lot.”
Her education continues. She just received 9 audio tapes Delogne’s father recorded. Until recently, the daughter had never heard them.
“People are literally opening boxes and sending the contents to us,” Kubach says. The trip to Vietnam opened doors that the children of servicemembers had kept shut for decades.
The filmmakers hope their work will end up on a network like PBS. They’re looking into film festivals and online distribution too.
Kubach believes it will resonate with many audiences. There’s the Vietnam era, of course, but also her own generation.
It is also, she says, a film for “anyone who has lost a dad. Or who has prejudices about another side, and goes out to confront them.”
There are at least 2 sides to every story. And Nora Kubach is working hard to tell them all.