Deyung Chou shares his and others’ memories online: www.memorycommunity.org
For Our Memory and Community
BY DEYUNG CHOU
Robert Lee Smith lives in Tacoma. I live in Olalla. We are 30 miles apart in distance and 30 years apart in age. We have one thing in common; that is, a place on the earth we both are connected to in our own intimate way: Taiwan. When Robert and I met in November 2012, he knew right away that he wanted to re-visit his beloved memories of the beautiful small island that I came from. Since leaving Taiwan, Robert has never tired of telling people how he loves the years he spent there as an aircraft electrician with the American Air Force, but this time his story would be told in a different style. He would be in a short film shot and directed by me, a veteran filmmaker, who holds a masters degree in cinema studies from New York University, and immigrated to the U.S. in 2010.
On the filming day, I allowed Muffin to be the silent character that played against Robert because I wanted to capture the lovely partnership between this gentleman and his 12-year-old dog. Robert was well prepared for the interviews so he expressed eloquently his fond memories in front of my camera. After finishing the editing, the film is 15 minutes in length — twice as long as it was planned to be.
I call my film project “MCM/M,” short for “Memory Community Movie/Memoir.” I started Memory Community, a nonprofit organization, in April 2011 in order to film rather than write memoirs for elderly people. This innovative project immediately caught the interest of Terri Vickery, assistant director of development and volunteer coordinator at the retirement home Franke Tobey Jones in Tacoma when I reached out to some local nursing homes and retirement facilities. Since interviewing Yvonne Zubalik, a resident there, Memory Community has served more than 20 seniors in Seattle and Tacoma.
The project welcomes any amount of donations, or the production fee for an individual film, which is $100. But until now, I haven’t actually charged any of my interviewees.
Chinese people have a saying: “Every senior is a treasure.” What I try to achieve is to help seniors tell their stories in order to increase younger generations’ understanding of those before us who help us be who we are.
Celebrities publish biographies to tell their stories. What about ordinary people? I believe that they should have memoirs, too, because everyone has a story and because our sense of history is enriched by hearing about the life experiences of everyday people. The senior population is growing rapidly, but is often neglected and regarded as having nothing more to contribute to society. In fact, many of them have untold and fascinating stories, and Memory Community aims to encourage them to share so that the generations after them can benefit from this priceless and vast reservoir of knowledge.
I have long been interested in working with the elderly, especially those who are disadvantaged and have very few resources. I regret not taking enough time to record my parents’ stories because I was too busy and kept putting it off. Like my parents, many elders do not feel their stories are worth telling and do not feel comfortable displaying their emotions in front of a camera. However, I have found this population to be very eager to share and pass on their life experiences, if only we are willing to ask and listen. Since the passing of my mother six years ago, my desire to collect life stories from the elders has intensified, and I am now dedicating time, energy and skills to help preserve memories and family histories for seniors, and our communities.
A version of this article was originally published in Northwest Prime Time. View Robert’s film and others at www.memorycommunity.org.