|AMERICAN HEROES: In Bosnia
In December 1994, an American television crew traveled to war-torn Yugoslavia. At the time the Bosnian civil war had been raging for several years and no peace accord ever seemed to take hold. The purpose of the shoot was to produce a pilot episode for a show concept profiling the lives and actions of Americans working for aid organizations around the world. Their prime goal was to profile American Red Cross volunteer Diane Paul based out of Zagreb, Croatia. During the first week of the shoot they met Toby Wolf and Sonya Thompson.
Diane Paul left her husband and two young sons to accept a six month mission in Croatia. Her objective was to set up a system of refugee camps for the thousands streaming across the Bosnian border daily. Many of these families had been torn apart and possessed no valuables and had little hope to rebuild their lives. During the course of time, Diane became very attached to many of these families and finds it very difficult to leave. American Heroes profiles Diane during the last week of this complex journey. Shortly after graduating from college, Toby Wolf accepted a job with the International Origination for Migration. Versed in many foreign languages, including Serb-Croatian, Toby became a valuable asset in daily refugee rescue runs. Reminiscent of the old underground railroad - - Toby deals with Bosnian checkpoints, hours of waiting and the constant threat of sniper attack as just another day on the job. American Heroes rode along on one of these missions. The story is filled with tension, fear and joy.
Sonya Thompson was one of a handful of Americans based in Sarejevo during the height of the Sarejevo siege. As a representative of the US military, her job was to coordinate the daily medevac out of the city. After several aborted attempts, American Heroes hitched a ride with Sonya aboard one of the few UN transport flights into the city. Tough on the outside but very sensitive to the suffering of the Bosnian people, Sonya is intriguing and courageous.
Each of these segments rely heavily on the subjects point of view. No hype or hoopla! American Heroes lets these stories of individual empowerment drive the drama. Diane, Toby and Sonya are ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things - - an inspiration to us all.
The production was independently financed through investors, family and friends. With over fifty hours of footage, the project was in Post-Production for over a year. Much has changed in the former Yugoslavia but the message remains the same.
In quite a different arena in Los Angeles, independent producer Craig Serling has his own definition of heroes: Those whose stories aren't salable as a series to a TV industry interested in "reality" shows that nourish negativity and cynicism, not optimism.
Serling and his partner, Roland Seeman, have an idea for a weekly half-hour show series that's hardly unique, but nonetheless TV's present landscape. It's titled "American Heroes."
The producers have made a pilot - nothing fancy, but a worthy, professional one with good production values and fee of schmaltz - profiling three American s who have made sacrifices to work abroad for others in what narrator Mike Watkiss calls the Madness called Bosnia"
The Simon Weisenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance have offered to host the West Coast premiere. Very ambitious but great real here. What premiere? So far, "American Hereos" is a firm no sale.
Serling (a cousin of Rod Serling) and Seeman say they have been coolly received while making the usual round of networks, productions companies and distributors with their pilot. As one executive wrote in a rejection letter: "We do not feel the market-place can support a show about hereos at the current time"
Someone else said "We want sex and action." Someone else "We are looking for the next 'People's Court.'" Someone else "It sounds boring." Someone else "Hero shows just don't work."
Of course, there are no talk-show circuits for the Billings crowd, and not even an outlet yet for the trio of quite hereos featured in Serling's unsold pilot set in the dangerous, pre-piece pact Balkans.
When it was filmed, Army Captain Sonya Thompson of Texarkana, Ark., was in a United Nations detachment evacuating sick and wounded from Sarajevo, recent college graduate Toby Wolf of Washington, was potential sniper meat in Serb-held Croatia while helping reunite refugees with their family and friends in other countries, and Diane Paul of Baltimore was a Red Cross volunteer helping set up refugee camps in Croatia.
Paul had left behind her supportive husband and two young sons in the United States to take the six-month assignment, acknowledging that she couldn't stop the war, then adding, "but I could do something."
This message of individual empowerment--that you can make a difference--is important and powerful, but lost, apparently, on those deciding what programs to snap-up for TV.
In the madness called Hollywood.
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