Ghost Tape #10

Created by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, "Ghost Tape #10" was one of many tapes engineered as part of "Operation: Wandering Soul," a psychological operations campaign designed to intimidate and demoralize the North Vietnamese Army. These audio tapes would echo throughout war zones, their soundtracks consisting of actors portraying grieving family members, or voices from the dead, longing to be reunited with their loved ones. Exploiting the traditional Buddhist belief that, if denied a proper burial in their homeland, the dead wander the world aimlessly, these recordings were originally conceived of as attempts to weaponize an opposing culture's religious beliefs against them. Ghost Tape #10, the film, focuses on unearthing and re-examining this weaponization of belief through the context of modern day Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American religious practice. Through dreamlike visualizations and interviews in Vietnam and the United States, reactions to this obscure piece of American propaganda lead to larger discussions about how modern day relationships between the living and the dead are carried out, and what truths, if any, still echo within this recording.

  • Sean David Christensen
    Director
  • Sean David Christensen
    Producer
  • Sean David Christensen
    Writer
  • Sean David Christensen
    Camera
  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham
    Camera
  • Thiên Chip
    Assistant Camera
  • Sean David Christensen
    Editor
  • Ricky Berger
    Sound Editing & Mixing
  • Ricky Berger
    Music & Sound Design
  • Jedadiah Cracco
    Scenic Artist - Figurines
  • Sean David Christensen
    Miniatures
  • Ca Dao "Cookie" Duong
    Vietnamese Translation & Transcription
  • Thành Hoa Nguyễn
    Field Guides & Interpreters
  • Pham Thu Hang
    Field Guides & Interpreters
  • Janet Hoskins
    Faculty Advisor
  • Michael Bodie
    USC MVA Production Faculty
  • Jennifer Cool
    USC MVA Production Faculty
  • Lanita Jacobs
    USC MVA Production Faculty
  • Robert Lemelson
    USC MVA Production Faculty
  • Nancy Lutkehaus
    USC MVA Production Faculty
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Băng ghi âm ma
  • Film Type:
    Documentary, Short, Student
  • Genres:
    Documentary, Educational, Vietnam War
  • Runtime:
    28 minutes 12 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    September 7, 2018
  • Production Budget:
    3,600 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States, Viet Nam
  • Film Language:
    English, Vietnamese
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital video
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    Yes
  • Athens International Film + Video Festival
    Athens, OH
    United States
    April 9, 2019
    World Premiere
    Alden Award
  • Columbus International Film + Animation Festival
    Columbus, OH
    United States
    Semi-Finalist
  • No Festival Required: Selected Shorts at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
    Scottsdale, AZ
    United States
    March 17, 2019
  • Association for Asian Studies (AAS) 2019 Film Expo
    Denver, CO
    United States
    March 22, 2019
  • XIV "Eyes and Lenses” Ethnographic Films Review
    Warsaw
    Poland
    June 10, 2019
  • Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival
    Vancouver
    Canada
    November 23, 2019
    Canadian Premiere
    Best Student Film - Honorable Mention
  • BEA On-Location: Creative Competition
    Boulder, CO
    United States
    October 11, 2019
    Student Creative Competition - Best Documentary
  • San Diego International Film Festival
    San Diego, CA
    United States
    October 19, 2019
    West Coast Premiere
Director Biography - Sean David Christensen

Sean David Christensen (b. 1985) is a visual artist who works in music & film. His work has been featured at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, New Hampshire Film Festival, Tacoma Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival, Little Big Shots: Australian International Animation Festival, Atlanta International Documentary Film Festival & the Sony Pictures Wet Paint Animation Festival. His films have screened at the Angelika Film Center, Phoenix Art Museum, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Arizona State University Art Museum & the Musée des beaux-arts in Montréal. His artwork has been featured on Buzzfeed & The A.V. Club, and his experimental documentary The Duel, based on a true story by actress Lili Taylor, was named a Vimeo Staff Pick in 2018. Of his short film Fan Mail, Jonathan Kiefer of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle called it, "One of the best shorts of 2009." Amy R. Handler of Moving Pictures Magazine has described his filmmaking as, "Brilliant...fragile & hypnotic," and Sundance Award-winning director Jay Rosenblatt has described Christensen's short films as, "Evocative...they do what many short films fail to do, make you wish they were longer." Christensen lives and works in Los Angeles.

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Director Statement

A year ago to the day, I found myself outside Hanoi, steadying my camera upwards to cradle the silver of the moon in the center of its lens. A guest of Thắng Nghiêm Pagoda, I was documenting the Hungry Ghost Festival, traditionally celebrated by Buddhists throughout Southeast Asia during the seventh lunar month, as a time to honor the deceased. Offerings such as cigarettes and oranges gathered alongside family photographs beneath sticks of incense, their glowing tails forming columns of smoke, calling their spirits back once more to enjoy what they might've missed since leaving the physical world behind.

Had there been an IHOP nearby, I would've placed one of their Strawberry Belgian Waffles (to go) beside a framed picture of my grandmother, Marie. Towards the end of her life, only visits from her grandson rivaled the excitement of indulging in this particular breakfast treat. Luckily for her, these often came together.

As I stared up at the night sky, I prayed that whatever footage I had travelled to Vietnam to gather for my master's thesis was worth it. This shot of the moon, for example. Whenever it was at its most luminous, my mother called them "Granny Moons." After her passing, these omens kept watch over the years that followed, not all of them good. Nevertheless, whenever these moons would hang in the sky, I would outstretch my hand and clutch it like a pearl. I would then slowly bring my closed fist back into the small of my chest and breathe, when times were bad and deep breaths were hard to come by. After my first night in Vietnam, its cloak of night shrouding the miles I had left before me, I could've used any omen I could get.

I can't remember if there was a full moon the night I premiered my master's thesis at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on September 7th, but I could feel my grandmother was somewhere in the crowd. Thankfully, I was blessed with a remarkable group of guides, artists and craftspeople who helped me find my way, some of whom joined me once again in that darkened theatre. Under the mentorship of my professors who challenged me to take the right road instead of the easy one, I now look back on a year and a filmmaking journey that still feels impossible. But I kept going, even when I felt discouraged by the enormity of what I was trying to say with my camera. A voice inside my head kept saying: "Don't give up."

I never did. She always did give good advice.