Oberlin Blogs


February 22, 2024

Ariel Roberts ’25

Winter Term is officially over and I’m back in Oberlin gearing up for the spring semester. I can’t say it was easy to leave Vietnam, especially when I had such an incredible time, but I’m proud of the work I did and happy to keep the trip as an amazing memory. Now that it’s over, I’m excited to tell you about how my project wrapped up with finishing our documentary and screening it for the community.

As the editor of my crew, I spent the majority of the last week glued to my computer, trimming, rearranging, mixing sound, adding captions, and playing with the color grading. Fortunately I really enjoy editing, and I was happy to do it outside in the warm weather instead of holed away from the Ohio snow. I was really grateful to have some experience from the documentary class I took last semester, because it really helped with understanding how to organize the story, how to pick out only the most important quotes, and how to think ethically about presenting the subjects in your film. It’s amazing how much even one experience of filmmaking can teach you. When I went into that class, I felt pretty insecure about my abilities, but now I feel much more confident, and I surprised myself with what I was capable of while cutting our film. Overall the editing, while a lot of work, went relatively fast. When it came down to nitpicky details, our group had some creative differences, but we were able to work together to make decisions and be happy with the final product.

The screening of our documentaries took place on the last Friday of our trip. We all gathered in a cafe, the members of our NGOs sitting front and center, and projected our documentaries to view. We had put posters up in the cafe about our event earlier in the week, and a bunch of tourists joined to watch, which was really surprising and exciting. It’s always exhilarating, if a bit nerve wracking, to show your hard work to others. It was a perfect night, though, getting to spend time with everyone and seeing all of our hard work pay off. Afterwards we went to dinner to celebrate, enjoying a breath of relief from our long working days and some last time together reveling in our success before it was time to leave.

Documentary screening
Photo credit: Robin Canfield

The most rewarding part of the project was seeing the girls in our documentary’s reaction. They loved it and I was so happy that they felt we did their story justice. Our story was about their workplace, The Happiness Shop, which gives work to women with disabilities. They recycle leftover fabrics by making things like wallets, scrunchies, and fans. Everyone at the shop were some of the sweetest and most amazing people I've ever met. It was super hard to say goodbye to everyone the next day, especially after our relationship had grown so much and we had become so close to them. It felt like we had just made such close friends, and then we had to immediately say goodbye. This is what I love about documentary, and filmmaking in general, though, the relationships you get to build. I’m really grateful for the Cinema professors encouraging us to push ourselves and make truly meaningful films, because it made me fall in love with documentary, a form that intimidated me before. Understanding the impact of documentary filmmaking is something I will carry with me my entire career.

WT in Vietnam group picture
Photo credit: Robin Canfield

My flight left late at night on our departure day, so I had one last full day to spend in Hoi An, which also happened to be my birthday! Me and the small group of people who were either staying or leaving late went out to do some final things together. It was very bittersweet, but it was one of my favorite times of the whole trip. Isn’t it strange how the last day is always the best? First we went to a Buddhist vegan cafeteria, and then we went to a cafe overlooking the rice paddies to have one last coconut coffee. The sky was clear blue over the bright green rice fields, the stems swaying in waves. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. It felt like we were standing in a Ghibli film, especially when we noticed a heron popping its head out from the green.  In the evening, the last remaining few of us went on one of the lantern boat rides in Old Town. While floating down the colorfully lit water, we lit a lantern, made a wish, and sent it down the stream. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Hoi An and our time together. It was really hard saying goodbye to all the amazing friends I made on the trip, but I know we’ll stay in touch and meet again some day.

Rice patties in Vietnam
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts

And then after a long journey of flying, I made it back to Oberlin! I’m so excited to continue pursuing my Cinema Studies degree this semester and next year. I’m also on the hunt for an internship this summer, and I feel much more confident that I have work to show for my growing abilities. I'm even taking an Exco about upcycling, something that perfectly relates to my documentary! On another note, a little birdy told me that the Cinema Studies department is going to expand a ton next year, so if you're planning on majoring, or just exploring, get excited! I know I am!

Tạm biệt, Vietnam. Until our next adventure!

Over the clouds
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts

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