After Robert Ham was deployed in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, he realized that there was a serious issue facing some of the United States’ biggest on-the-ground allies. The interpreters who had worked with American military forces had become the target of constant threats from the remnants of the preexisting Taliban regime. Those had done so much to help troops in the region were in sudden, desperate need of the same level of assistance.
Now, Ham, an Emmy-winning director, is looking to make “The Interpreter,” a short film inspired by the lives and experiences of those translators he met while serving as an Army combat correspondent. After winning the Project of the Week prize at the end of July, it was subsequently selected by Indiewire’s readers as the Project of the Month. We spoke with Ham via email about what the future months and weeks hold not just for “The Interpreter,” but for the people on whose lives the film is based.
What’s next for the project?
Our main priority is raising the funds for our film via Kickstarter. We’ve raised over $16,000 for “The Interpreter” and have a week to get to our goal of $20,000. Once our film is financed we’ll move into pre-production. We have teamed up with some great organizations like USC’s Media Institute for Social Change, InterpretAmerica, and No One Left Behind. Through these organizations we’ve been gaining a lot of momentum in raising funds and awareness for the interpreters that we’ve left behind.
What are the biggest challenges for the project?
The biggest challenge for our team at this point is helping people understand the plight of the interpreters we’ve left behind. This is not a very well-known issue. There has been some great media coverage from newspapers and outlets like Vice that have covered this story but there is still a huge void of understanding on the subject in America. Once people understand what the problem is and realize that there is a way to help, we’ve found people to be quite generous. We decided to kickstart this project because this is a social change issue and we want people to be involved in helping make the change.
What are your goals?
We have several goals for our film. First and foremost, we want to get our film funded, surround ourselves with the best creative team for our budget and make an emotional and powerful short film that causes lasting and measurable change. From there, we plan to hit film festivals and to continue to bring awareness to the plight of Afghan/Iraqi interpreters working in conflict zones. Our long-term goal is to use this short film to make a feature film that is currently being written by Jenna Cavelle under the consultation of a highly-specialized development team consisting of the founders from InterpretAmerica and No One Left behind and select soldiers whose stories will be incorporated into our final screenplay. We also intend to affect lawmakers and change policy to help these interpreters get their visas to America in a timely manner.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Almost everyday our team get emails from an interpreter that is stuck in Afghanistan, being hunted by the Taliban and in need of a visa to America. We always knew this was a much larger issue than one interpreter, but reading these cries for help is heart-breaking. We wish someone told us how difficult this would be emotionally but it doesn’t change our team’s resolve to make a great emotional film that will shed light on the horrible situation our Afghan and Iraqi interpreters are in.
For more information on upcoming projects, see our daily updates on Project of the Day. You can also submit your project for consideration here.