Student Vietnam War documentary wins national CBI award

Student Vietnam War documentary wins national CBI award

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Heart of a Hero, a student documentary produced in Diana Nicolae’s Documentary Production class in 2015-16, won a prestigious national College Broadcaster’s Inc. (CBI) award Oct. 22 in Philadelphia.

The film, produced by then-seniors Pat Hopper, Michael Matarese, Lauren Rauffer and Frederick Casario, was among roughly 1,000 entries competing in 24 award categories and was honored during CBI’s National Student Electronic Media Convention.

Heart of a Hero tells the story of Matarese’s father, also named Michael, who was shot in the neck during a 1968 Vietnam War battle but pulled to safety by two comrades. Matarese never knew who the men were who saved him and the film traces his and his son’s efforts to find them.

The younger Matarese said unlike some war veterans, for whom discussing their experiences in battle is too difficult, his father was not only willing to talk about what happened during the Battle of Dong Ha, but was active in bringing the story to film.

“My dad’s been very open to talk about how things happened,” Matarese said. “Over all these years he’s wanted to thank them but wasn’t sure how.”

Unfortunately, he said, Army records did not make finding the men easier. Matarese, of Mullica Hill, was shot on May 8 or May 9, a discrepancy muddied by Army records, and that inconsistency is indicative of the bureaucratic mess it’s been to locate the men who saved his father, the junior Matarese said.

Extensive research by the aspiring filmmakers included interviews of other veterans and mining officials records in Washington and Maryland, he said.

Now 68, Matarese knows that time is running out to find the men – assuming they’re still alive.

His son, who wrote, produced and edited portions of the 24-minute film, said while he and his dad did not locate the men in the course of making the film they learned a great deal about what soldiers in the battle went through.

“We learned that one of the commanding officers, a lieutenant, was killed in the battle,” he said. “He was trying to protect his men and in doing so was not under cover.”

Matarese said the film was screened once for veterans and those who helped to produce it and he hopes to show it more now that the CBI program has ended.

Nicolae said competition for a CBI award is extremely fierce and that winning one can help launch careers for aspiring filmmakers. With all good films, she said, the most important thing is a great story and they found one.

"Sometimes a filmmaker finds the best stories close to home and this is certainly an example of that," she said. "It was a joy to watch Michael and his father as they worked on this film and embarked on this voyage of discovery together. The whole crew really worked hard to bring this story to screen -- from the producer Lauren working tirelessly, to Rick on camera, to Pat in the editing room finding a story in all of the raw footage -- and this film is a credit to their effort."

Heart of a Hero was the 3rd place winner in the Best Documentary/Public Affairs category.