Category Archives: Road Trips

November 29, 2014 — Year in Review (Part 2 — New York in June)

New York in June could only be made pos­si­ble by the hos­pi­tal­ity of long­time friend Peer Just. A free place to stay in New York meant that I could fun­nel some of our funds towards film­ing two cru­cial inter­views with Asian Amer­i­can scholar Judy Wu and the award-winning author Danke Li. Both pro­vided impor­tant insights into Li Ling-Ai’s moti­va­tions and how World War II trans­formed the every­day lives of women in both the United States and China. Answer­ing the last-minute call for cam­era help were our New York go-to DP Frank Ayala and another long­time friend Ruth Bonomo.

Leaving NYC home base for a day of production on Long Island -- first the subway, then the train, then the ferry.

Leav­ing NYC home base for a day of pro­duc­tion on Long Island — first the sub­way, then the train, then the ferry.

 

Judy Wu, author of DR. MOM CHUNG, took time out from her Port Jefferson vacation to sit for a great interview. Ruth Bonomo pitched in as DP on short notice, providing wheels, camera and lights. Judy's family fed us a great spaghetti dinner beachside. Signing K for KUKAN!

Judy Wu, author of DR. MOM CHUNG, took time out from her Port Jef­fer­son vaca­tion to sit for a great inter­view. Ruth Bonomo pitched in as DP on short notice, pro­vid­ing wheels, cam­era and lights. Judy’s fam­ily fed us a great spaghetti din­ner beach­side. Sign­ing K for KUKAN!

 

DP Frank Ayala with Danke Li, author of ECHOES OF CHONGQING, WOMEN IN WARTIME CHINA

DP Frank Ayala with Danke Li, author of ECHOES OF CHONGQING, WOMEN IN WARTIME CHINA

 

A visit to New York also meant I got to hang out with Calamity Chang, who has vol­un­teered to record tem­po­rary voice over lines that allow us to edit our his­tor­i­cal scenes. Calamity con­stantly inspires me by her will­ing­ness to embrace her per­for­mance instincts and bare it all in her won­der­fully tongue-in-cheek bur­lesque shows. She also knows her Chi­nese his­tory and pro­motes projects like ours that bring it to the fore­front. Her musician/photographer hus­band Mike Webb put in hours of free time as our sound man while dog Chewie qui­etly put up with our intru­sion. After a super long record­ing ses­sion on a sunny Sun­day after­noon, we all needed a New York spe­cialty cocktail.

 

Going over scripts with Calamity Chang.

Going over scripts with Calamity Chang.

 

Musician and Photographer Mike Webb pitches in as sound man to record our temporary voice over tracks.

Musi­cian and Pho­tog­ra­pher Mike Webb pitches in as sound man to record our tem­po­rary voice over tracks.

 

Chewie after a long recording session

Chewie after a long record­ing session

 

One of the killer cocktails I had in NYC featuring cucumber and gin

One of the killer cock­tails I had in NYC fea­tur­ing cucum­ber and gin

 

Just being in NYC is a real shot in the arm for a film­maker. Visual stim­u­la­tion is every­where and so are other artists whose very exis­tence and work are like cheers from the sidelines.

 

Inspiration from Steven Salmieri and his wife Sydney Michelle

Inspi­ra­tion from Steven Salmieri and his wife Syd­ney Michelle

 

Inspiration from artist, hat designer and jewelry maker Carol Markel

Inspi­ra­tion from artist, hat designer and jew­elry maker Carol Markel

 

Inspiration from my husband Paul Levitt who is designing a book with Dana Martin about his visit with Man Ray

Inspi­ra­tion from my hus­band Paul Levitt who is design­ing a book with Dana Mar­tin about his visit with Man Ray

 

More inspiration from a screening and Q&A with D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus

More inspi­ra­tion from a screen­ing and Q&A with D.A. Pen­nebaker and Chris Hegedus

 

Before my New York trip I got word that I received a fel­low­ship to go to China to join a group of high school edu­ca­tors form Canada and New Jer­sey on a World War II cen­tered study tour. It would be my first trip there, so China was on my mind.

 

Looking ahead to China in July at the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Brooklyn

Look­ing ahead to China in July at the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Brooklyn

 

Imagining China

Imag­in­ing China

 

China Kitsch

China Kitsch

 

Li Ling-Ai’s spirit is also close at hand when I am in NYC. Her great friend Larry Wil­son offered to point out the third floor apart­ment where she spent most of her life on West 55th street. The breeze picked up and the trees out­side the apart­ment did a dance as we looked up to the third floor.

 

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October 3, 2012 — Michelle Scott Delivers a Knock Out with her KUKAN SERIES

When I first made con­tact with Rey Scott’s grand­daugh­ter Michelle Scott and filled her in a lit­tle about the story behind KUKAN, she felt a need to trans­fer that story into paint and shared with me a vision she had for cre­at­ing a whole room of paint­ings ded­i­cated to her grand­fa­ther and KUKAN.  It seemed like a far-fetched dream back then.  So I was more than a lit­tle excited to go to Atlanta to wit­ness the open­ing of Michelle’s solo show — THE KUKAN SERIES.  Michelle hadn’t shared any images of the new work with me, so I wasn’t pre­pared for the visual sweep and emo­tional power of the work.  It lit­er­ally brought me to tears.  Here are a few choice pieces from the show.  WARNING — these pho­tos do not do the pieces jus­tice.  The real pieces have an almost three-dimensional qual­ity that allows the viewer to enter into the scene and expe­ri­ence a lit­tle of  Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai’s world back in the late 30’s.

Michelle Scott with "Start of a Journey" from the KUKAN Series

Artist Michelle Scott with “Start of a Jour­ney” the exclu­sive pre­mium avail­able for a $5,000 Kick­starter pledge (par­tially tax deductible).

 

The 36“X36” piece that Michelle cre­ated exclu­sively for our Kick­starter fundrais­ing drive is dis­played right in the front win­dow of 2Rules Fine Art in Mari­etta. Casual strollers walk­ing down the side­walk can’t help but be pulled in to find out with the imagery is all about.  For close up details of this paint­ing go to our Kick­starter home page.

 

"The Story of Kukan" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

The Story of Kukan” 48x84 is the sig­na­ture piece of the show

 

The KUKAN Series con­tains a few gor­geous trib­utes to Li Ling-Ai the Chi­nese Amer­i­can author who was the uncred­ited co-producer of KUKAN with Rey Scott.

"On a Dream on a Dare - Part 2" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

On a Dream on a Dare — Part 2″ 48x36 fea­tures Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai

 

The work below con­tains images of Li Ling-Ai from three dif­fer­ent decades and three dif­fer­ent loca­tions (the old Hon­olulu Acad­emy of Art, Bei­jing China, and New York City)

"Heroine (Miss Li Ling Ai)" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Hero­ine (Miss Li Ling Ai)” 60x34 is a gor­geous trib­ute to a remark­able woman

 

There are also fab­u­lous pieces that pro­vide a visual mon­tage of the China wit­nessed through Rey Scott’s cam­era.  He took both stills and 16mm color movies.  Some of his old cam­eras are on dis­play too with the orig­i­nal stills.

"Chungking Burning" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Chungk­ing Burn­ing” 48x25

 

"Rise" Mixed Media from Michelle Scott's KUKAN Series

Rise” 60x34

 

"What about the Children?" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

What about the chil­dren?” 40x40

Rey Scott trav­eled all the way to Tibet and filmed some of the first color footage of prayer rit­u­als there.

Michelle’s take on the orig­i­nal KUKAN lobby cards for the United Artists ver­sion of the film.

 

"Rules of Engagement" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Rules of Engage­ment” 24x36

 

"Guerillas" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Gueril­las” 24x36

 

"The Miaos Tribe" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

The Miaos Tribe” 24x36

 

"Burma" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott for the KUKAN Series

Burma” 36x36”

Rey Scott also filmed the famous Burma Road as it was being built.

 

"Shui" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott for the KUKAN Series

Shui”

A reminder of the British influ­ence in Hong Kong which fell to the Japan­ese in 1941.

"Lone Ranger" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott for the KUKAN Series

Lone Ranger” 32x50

 

 

"The Panda Man" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

The Panda Man” 34x60

A whole movie could be made just about the baby giant panda bear that Rey Scott brought from Chengtu to the Chicago Zoo. Orig­i­nally chris­tened “Li Ling-Ai” by the for­e­ing jour­nal­ists in Chungk­ing, it was later named Mei Lan when it was iden­ti­fied as a boy panda bear.

 

"Portrait of a Lady" and "For Him" Mixed Media by Michelle Scott

Por­trait of a Lady” and “For Him” are the first two pieces that Michelle Scott made in the KUKAN Series

 

There are many more gems in this show. But the emo­tional high­light for me was being able to see the first two por­traits of Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai that Michelle did. I first saw them on her web­site before we even knew each other and before she even knew who Ling-Ai was. This was the first time I was able to see them both in per­son. Since the pieces had been sold to dif­fer­ent col­lec­tors sev­eral years ago, this was also the first time they were reunited in the same room for quite some time — a sym­bol of hope for me as I con­tinue to seek fund­ing to fin­ish FINDING KUKAN.

If you are in the Atlanta area make an effort to see this his­toric show — up only until Octo­ber 26, 2012

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July 24, 2012 — An Earfull At the Ear Inn

As the weeks wear on and I get closer to the dead­line for sub­mit­ting a grant appli­ca­tion to the NEA, I have peri­ods of doubt and won­der if it’s even worth it to try for such a pres­ti­gious thing.  And if I don’t get awarded a grant what will it mean – that the project is unwor­thy, and I should give up?

Some­times fac­ing a lengthy grant appli­ca­tion makes you want to cut and run.

Glanc­ing through pic­tures I took in May I’m reminded that get­ting grants and mak­ing Art are two dif­fer­ent things.  These black and white snaps were taken on a hot sum­mer night when I joined my hus­band Paul and our friend Peer at one of NY’s old­est bars – The Ear Inn on Spring Street.

Photo of Paul and Peer at the Ear Inn

Paul and Peer at the Ear Inn

As I ate mus­cles at the bar and lis­tened to old-time jazz, a woman named Kate­rina intro­duced her­self.  She had an intrigu­ing accent and was very charming.

Catha­rina is half Russ­ian half Greek.

Sev­eral min­utes later her friend Roland joined her – an artist, he showed her pho­tos of his lat­est work on his Iphone.The strik­ing shad­ows in his imagery prompted me to talk about the ideas for shadow play I had in mind for FINDING KUKAN.

Designer and artist Roland Gebhardt

Designer and artist Roland Gebhardt

For some great use of shad­ows, you should see THE THIRD MAN, said Roland.  He sounded like he knew what he was talk­ing about.  When I got home I looked up Roland’s web­site – pho­tos of his per­for­mance pieces made me think of all the pos­si­bil­i­ties before me. The doors to cre­ation opened up a crack.

Image from Roland Gebhardt's Layers

Image from Roland Geb­hardts Performance/Installation “Layers”

As I watched THE THIRD MAN for the first time the doors were thrown wide open.  Every shot was a com­po­si­tional gem and fired up ideas in my head for ways to visu­al­ize my own search.

 

Scene from THE THIRD MAN

An early scene from THE THIRD MAN — shad­ows and a great stair­well — 2 of my favorite things.

I’m hang­ing on to the DVD so I can watch it for the third time – a reward I’m going to give myself after get­ting that grant app fin­ished.  You DO need a lot of money to make movies, but you DON’T need a lot to enjoy the heck out of them.

Screen shots from THE THIRD MAN

Screen shots from THE THIRD MAN

Thanks to Roland Geb­hardt and the Ear Inn for remind­ing me of why I’m writ­ing grants appli­ca­tions in the first place.

Texting from The Ear Inn

The mys­te­ri­ous guy across the bar must be writ­ing a novel on his cell phone.

Whether it’s the bar, the gym, or the beach, we all need to leave the desk once in awhile to get a fresh per­spec­tive.  Where do you go when you need a cre­ative breath of fresh air?

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June 28, 2012 — A Visit to Yale and Chinese Exclusion

The recent FINDING KUKAN shoot at Yale Uni­ver­sity brought out the per­pet­ual stu­dent in me.  You can’t help but be awed by the vaulted ceil­ings and Knights of the Round Table atmos­phere of the Hall of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies where my inter­view with Yale Pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can Stud­ies Mary Lui took place.

Photo of Yale Graduate Studies Building

Yale Grad­u­ate Stud­ies Build­ing on York Street

The build­ing reminds you how much his­tory has come before you and how much you are igno­rant of.

Photo of Robin Lung at Yale

Direc­tor Robin Lung at Yale

 

For­tu­nately the halls of learn­ing at Yale are pop­u­lated by peo­ple like Mary who ded­i­cate their lives to gath­er­ing knowl­edge and dis­sem­i­nat­ing it to peo­ple like me.

 

Robin Lung interviews Mary Lui for FINDING KUKAN

Robin Lung inter­views Mary Lui for FINDING KUKAN

 

In try­ing to under­stand the social cli­mate that prompted Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott to risk money and life to make KUKAN, Mary Lui reminded me that the behav­ior of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans like Li Ling-Ai was still gov­erned in part by prej­u­di­cial immi­gra­tion laws enacted against the Chi­nese — the most infa­mous one being the Chi­nese Exclu­sion Act passed in 1882.

Signature Page of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Sig­na­ture Page of the 1882 Chi­nese Exclu­sion Act

Meant to keep cheap labor from enter­ing the US, the exclu­sion laws ended up doing much more than that. From restrict­ing the for­ma­tion of Chi­nese fam­i­lies, to ren­der­ing the few Chi­nese women around at the time exotic crea­tures with ques­tion­able back­grounds the Exclu­sion Laws had neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions on even the rich­est and most edu­cated Chi­nese Amer­i­cans.  It’s no won­der that with so few Chi­nese Amer­i­cans around that stereo­types and mis­con­cep­tions about them would form.

Vintage Valentine Card

Vin­tage Valen­tine Card

 

I came back to Hawaii much bet­ter pre­pared to appre­ci­ate the his­toric bill recently passed by Con­gress to offi­cially apol­o­gize for the prej­u­di­cial laws that tar­geted Chi­nese and other Asians in Amer­ica for over 80 years.

 

Judy Chu

Judy Chu intro­duced Apol­ogy Bill for Chi­nese Exclu­sion Laws

 

One of the stereo­types I had about my own eth­nic back­ground was that Chi­nese don’t make waves and pas­sively accept their fate, let­ting bygones be bygones.

Action Call Posted by the 1882 Project

The coura­geous efforts of peo­ple like Con­gress­woman Judy Chu and orga­ni­za­tions like the 1882 Project belie that stereo­type and bring a new val­i­da­tion to the his­tory of Asians in Amer­ica that will hope­fully prompt more sto­ries about an era of exclu­sion that we still don’t know enough about.

Are there ways that exclu­sion laws have affected your life?  Let us hear from you.

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December 5–10, 2011 — LA Production Shoot

My main rea­son for trav­el­ing to LA was to inter­view Li Ling-Ai’s nephew Andrew Li who was a young boy of 8, liv­ing in Nanking when Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai began pre-production for KUKAN.

Photo of Robin Lung talking to Andrew Li

Ann Kaneko films FINDING KUKAN direc­tor Robin Lung meet­ing with Li Ling-Ai’s nephew Andrew Li.

I hoped to find out more infor­ma­tion from Andrew about Ling-Ai’s con­nec­tions in China at the time. Though I was able to gather some valu­able infor­ma­tion from my inter­view, the 5 days in LA turned out to be about so much more — a lot of it behind the scenes stuff that will never make it into the documentary.

Get­ting to know the tal­ented film­maker Ann Kaneko was one of the unex­pected bonuses of the trip. Thanks to gen­er­ous dona­tions from early FINDING KUKAN sup­port­ers, I was able to hire Ann for a cou­ple of days as my LA Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy. Hav­ing a dp with a real inter­est in the project and expe­ri­ence with both edit­ing and being a char­ac­ter in her own films was invaluable.

Photo of Ann Kaneko with Julio and Ceiba

Ann Kaneko with Julio and Ceiba

Wit­ness­ing Ann bal­anc­ing her ded­i­ca­tion to her work with the demands of rais­ing her 8-month old daugh­ter Ceiba was a real inspi­ra­tional shot-in-the-arm too.

Andrew Li inspects photographs

Andrew Li inspects photographs

As I lunched with Andrew Li, his daugh­ters Por­tia and Quincy, and his wife Gilda I got a sense of the rich life Li Ling-Ai had beyond KUKAN and the pro­found rip­ple effect that per­sonal sto­ries can have through time and space.

Photo of the Reading Room of the Margaret Herrick Library

John Zainer talks to Ed Carter in front of the $500,000 King Kong poster that dec­o­rates the Mar­garet Her­rick Library’s read­ing room.

 

Film­ing B-roll scenes of Ed Carter at the Mar­garet Her­rick Library intro­duced me to this gor­geous build­ing and amaz­ing film his­tory resource for the first time (I am already think­ing of excuses to return to spend more leisurely hours there).

Photo of Ann Kaneko and Rebecca Bozzo in Margaret Herrick Library

Ann Kaneko and Rebecca Bozzo prep for a shoot at the Mar­garet Her­rick Library

It also gave me an excuse to hook up with the peren­ni­ally upbeat Rebecca Bozzo again. Becca is a ded­i­cated young film­maker who shares a pas­sion for old movies and has been a FINDING KUKAN sup­porter from almost day one.

photo of Dan & Denise Levenick with Robin Lung

Dan & Denise Lev­enick with Robin Lung

Dan & Denise Lev­enick invited me to their home in Pasadena to view their mother’s home movies and pho­tographs of 1930s Hawaii. Besides giv­ing me another rea­son to mar­vel at the gen­eros­ity and kind­ness of strangers, Dan and Denise pro­vided me with pre­cious “before-my-time” knowl­edge of my home town.

Photo of AMPAS Preservationist Joe Lindner

AMPAS Preser­va­tion­ist Joe Lind­ner describes how curled the KUKAN film print is.

Talk­ing to AMPAS Pres­re­va­tion­ist Joe Lind­ner about the ardu­ous process of restor­ing KUKAN gave me new insights into the pre­cious nature of old film, the his­toric value that even old home movies have, and the galling num­ber of films that have been destroyed by time.

Photo of Ille-Heid Zainer

Ille-Heid Zainer and her fresh baked bread.

photo of John Zainer

John Zainer’s 1971 VW Van was the per­fect LA pro­duc­tion vehicle.


Finally my hosts in LA, John and Ille-Heid Zaner, pro­vided me with an inti­mate view of what liv­ing in LA can be like, invit­ing me to neigh­bor­hood par­ties, pro­vid­ing home-cooked meals after long days of shoot­ing, chauf­fer­ing me around in vin­tage vehi­cles, and shar­ing Ille’s sis­ter Elke’s amaz­ing Christ­mas cook­ies with me.

Elke’s Cook­ies

The result is that after my 5-day pro­duc­tion shoot in LA, a city that I once had a very low opin­ion of, I can’t wait to go back.

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July 23, 2011 — A Visit to the New York City Office of the National Archives

When I first started check­ing to see if Li Ling-Ai could have been the real life inspi­ra­tion for the fic­tional detec­tive Lily Wu, I tracked down some of her trav­els through boat records that are avail­able on Ancestry.com.  One of the Ances­try records was a New York Exclu­sion file that listed the date of her arrival in San Fran­cisco.  Going over the notes on the record again, I saw that Li Ling-Ai’s file included an inter­ro­ga­tion.  Since the inter­ro­ga­tion occurred only a year before Li Ling-Ai met Rey Scott and con­ceived of mak­ing the movie KUKAN, I was anx­ious to read through the inter­ro­ga­tion to see if it con­tained any clues.  In July I finally got a chance to visit the NYC office of the National Archives where Li Ling-Ai’s Exclu­sion file is located.

photo of Robin Lung at the NYC office of the National Archives

Robin Lung exam­ines Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File at the NYC office of the National Archives

It was amaz­ingly well-preserved, and I had a lot of mixed emo­tions while exam­in­ing it.  On the one hand, I was excited to see a pho­to­graph of Li Ling-Ai in the file that I had never seen before and let­ters that were hand-written by her.  Han­dling the doc­u­ments gave me a very vis­ceral con­nec­tion to the past and to this woman that I have been pur­su­ing for the last cou­ple of years.

photo of Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File

On the other hand I was appalled that this file existed in the first place.  I had to think about the bla­tant anti-Chinese dis­crim­i­na­tion that led to The Chi­nese Exclu­sion Law — the rea­son for the cre­ation of the file I was touch­ing.  I was astounded that a U.S. cit­i­zen like Li Ling-Ai (she was born in Hawai‘i in 1908 when it was already a U.S. Ter­ri­tory) who had a U.S. Pass­port (doc­u­mented in the file) would have to spend days at the NYC Immi­gra­tion Office in order to get a re-entry form that would make it pos­si­ble for her to come back to her own coun­try after leav­ing it!  And that she would have to sit through an inter­ro­ga­tion to prove that she was authen­tic despite all the other doc­u­men­ta­tion she had made me even more indignant.

 

As a researcher, I was thank­ful to be able to access the reveal­ing infor­ma­tion in the file and draw both the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive energy from it.  So I have to acknowl­edge the hard work that goes into index­ing, stor­ing and retriev­ing these records.  That day at the Archives I wit­nessed two vol­un­teers who were labo­ri­ously going through files and enter­ing data into lap­tops so that oth­ers like me could find infor­ma­tion about ances­tors and char­ac­ters from the past.  I wish I had got­ten their names and taken pho­tos of them if only to pay a small homage to all the oth­ers like them who have helped for­ward my investigation.

photo of documents in Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

Doc­u­ments in Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File

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July 11–16 Road Trip to Kennesaw & Tallahassee

Director Robin Lung behind the camera

Direc­tor Robin Lung films in Georgia

I was a more than a lit­tle ner­vous as I pre­pared for a trip to Geor­gia and Florida to meet descen­dants of KUKAN cam­era­man Rey Scott for the first time.  I was plan­ning to spend a week with Rey Scott’s grand­daugh­ter artist Michelle Scott and take a long road trip with her from her home in Ken­ne­saw, Geor­gia to her uncle’s house in Tal­la­has­see.  Michelle was on a mis­sion to find more of her grandfather’s pho­tographs and learn as much as she could about what he was like as a per­son.  I wanted to tag along to doc­u­ment her search and poke around myself for addi­tional infor­ma­tion about Li Ling-Ai.

Michelle Scott in her studio.

Michelle Scott with a few paint­ings from her KUKAN series

As I packed my suit­case I wor­ried that since Michelle and I didn’t really know each other the trip could be a total fiasco.  For­tu­nately Michelle and the rest of the Scott fam­ily were so open­hearted and sup­port­ive that I felt instantly com­fort­able after meet­ing them and the trip was more suc­cess­ful than I could have imag­ined.   Wit­ness­ing Michelle’s pas­sion for her art and her com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing her grandfather’s legacy infused me with new energy to face all of the tedious things that go along with doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing (like log­ging and tran­scrib­ing footage and writ­ing grant proposals).

Ray Scott

Ray Scott relaxes before interview.

I real­ize that gain­ing access to peo­ple and places out­side of my every­day com­fort zone is one of the immea­sur­able rewards of this process.  I’m look­ing for­ward to what the next road trip will bring me.

Mark Scott and Michelle Scott examine Rey Scott's cameras

Mark Scott and Michelle Scott exam­ine Rey Scott’s cam­eras as cam­era­man Kevin Deyo films the scene.

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