Honoring a Veteran’s Legacy Through Film

Dylan Wallace – 2019 Live Más Scholarship recipient, 2020 & 2021 Live Más Scholarship Renewal recipient, and Film and Media Arts student at University of Tampa

Watch Dylan’s documentary, “War Tugs.”

I grew up watching “The Trials of Life” nature documentary series with my mother, a high school science teacher. I knew I wanted to create nature documentaries for a living. But, when it came to college, I had the mindset of playing it a bit safer and focusing more on the scientific aspect of my dream rather than the filmmaking. That changed once I started touring schools. I stepped on campus at the University of Tampa, and my mother said to me, “Dylan, I see you up in your room working on videos for us. I don’t see you up there with a microscope,” and I knew I wanted to follow my passion.

I love my university, but school is expensive, and film is not a concrete career path, so I knew I’d need some help. After receiving a Live Más Scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation, I had an overwhelming surge of confidence to make it in film. I spent the Fall 2019 semester learning the basics of filmmaking and returned home for winter break. That’s when I first interviewed my grandfather. My family suggested I interview him and create a documentary to submit to the Library of Congress. I had always loved his stories about serving aboard the tugboats in World War II, so I was excited to do it.

I had studied ideal interview setups at school with access to all the equipment and resources I needed. But I ran into some issues with the equipment my parents and I rented for this project. I ended up having audio problems with my first interview and could not use any of the footage. It ended up being a blessing in disguise. During our second interview, my grandfather knew what to expect, and he opened up to me. He was more comfortable around the lights and cameras, and he had had time to think about the stories he wanted to share. After my grandfather answered my final question, I knew I had captured something extraordinary.

I returned to school for the spring 2020 semester, only to be sent home due to COVID-19. This was the last time I saw my grandfather before he passed away in May 2020. After his passing, I did not want to touch the interview I had filmed. It was painful to listen to, and it no longer felt like I was editing an interview with my grandpa; it felt like I had his legacy to preserve. A two-hour interview and 95 years of life dropped in my lap to create something out of. I was scared. I ignored the project for a while and focused on school. I took classes in editing, screened in and competed in festivals, and received another Live Más Scholarship. This all worked to build my confidence to a point where I was ready to take on the project again.

At this point, I was wrapping up my sophomore year and had a much deeper understanding of filmmaking. I began editing. Some days I would edit from when I woke up until the sun was going down, only pausing to eat. I felt inspired to show the world the kind of man my grandfather was, how incredibly brave, caring, and powerful he was. This helped me cope with the pain from his passing. Instead of working on the documentary and feeling like he was missing, I felt like I got the chance to wake up and hang out with him every day. We would sit and talk about what he experienced, and I would listen to music from the years his stories were taking place. I would find and watch old footage of the things he talked about and live in those moments with him. The pieces fell together in a way I am very proud of. I managed to finish the documentary the day before my family held a celebration of life for my grandfather, almost a year after his passing. COVID-19 restrictions delayed our gathering, but we were finally able to lay my grandfather to rest through religious services and with military funeral honors. Afterward, my family watched the documentary I made for him.

The experience was amazing, and I have received so much love and support from my family and friends, and people outside of my social circles who have seen the documentary. The documentary “War Tugs” will always hold a special place in my heart. The Taco Bell Foundation helped me bring this project to life by supporting my education in filmmaking practices and equipment. The project made me very excited for what is coming down the road for me, and I cannot wait to find out what lies ahead.

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