Connecticut | Filmmaking | Interviews

Paying Homage to Korean War Veterans in Documentary

1 Mar , 2014  

Written by Sarah Blood | Posted by:

Filmmaker Conor Timmis pays homage to his late grandfather and others who fought in the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, in his documentary Finnigan's War.

Whether it be about a family, a superhero, or a solider at war, film can convey the depth of the human spirit and what feats it can accomplish. Conor Timmis, from Middletown, CT, does this with his documentary Finnigan’s War. Timmis brings us in to his grandfather’s gripping story of the Korean War, through interviews with Korean War veterans, combat footage, and powerful animation. One cannot help but be inspired by the brave Korean War veterans who share their experiences. Timmis developed his film in memory and tribute to his late grandfather, Korean War veteran John Finnigan, but also to create awareness and appreciation of all Korean War veterans.

As Timmis traveled across the country to make Finnigan’s War his journey transformed into an unexpected revelation. “As I kept filming, it became less [primarily] about my grandfather and more about the other veterans,” explained Timmis. “This project lasted the same amount time as the Korean War–three years.”

In a sense, Timmis began his journey in making Finnigan’s War when he was a child, listening to his grandfather’s horrifying stories about the Korean War. “Initially [the stories] were about him and his experience,” Timmis reflects. “He grew up as an orphan in New York during the depression. His story is really like the American Dream stereotype-he worked hard and came from nothing.”

Many years later, Timmis attended the Korean War’s 60th anniversary on June 25, 2010, at the Washington D.C. Memorial, where he met his first interviewee, Kristian Blanchard, son of Korean War veteran Thomas Wayne Blanchard. Timmis’ filming in D.C. spiraled into a full-fledged documentary.

Timmis sought grants from various American companies to fund his project, until his father suggested seeking the support from somewhere further from home: Korea. Timmis contacted the CEO at Poongsan Corporation of South Korea and received a substantial grant, as well as a small grant from The Deupree Family Foundation later on in post-production.

Timmis gathered veterans willing to tell their stories on camera. “Believe it or not Facebook was a very useful tool,” explained Timmis. “It’s a small world on the Internet.”

Timmis also sought to highlight the Latino, black, and Native American veterans, in order to bring awareness to the minorities who participated in the war. “No matter what age or race – you were fighting alongside each other,” said Timmis. This included the Black Rangers, the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company, and the Borniqueneers Motorcycle Club, whose members consist of Latino Korean War Vets. He interviewed a group of Black Rangers about their experiences. Timmis says he believes his grandfather would have been particularly fascinated by their part in the Korean War. “I don’t think he was aware of their participation,” said Timmis.

In telling his story, Timmis knew that having the right tools to grab his audience would help to set his film apart from other war documentaries. Timmis asked Justin Case to animate the war battle enactments. “It was creatively different and risky in a traditional documentary,” commented Timmis. “But, I wanted a different, younger audience. Hiring actors for a reenactment would have been expensive,” said Timmis. “I saw his [Case’s] work online and it made sense. The animation had to be respectful and exciting.”

Timmis recruited actor, Mark Hamil – epic hero Luke Skywalker of Star Wars – to narrate the battle scenes. “He has a military background through his family and a great speaking voice. And, everyone likes him,” Timmis added. “I reached out to his agent and he was genuinely interested. I just had a huge grin on my face when I heard him first record the narration. I’m a big fan of his.”

The narration was key in telling the stories of each veteran, but to help visualize the stories, Timmis bought a license to Critical Past, a website which provides clips from the most pivotal moments in history. In particular, this resource worked well in depicting some of the most memorable stories in Timmis’ documentary. Tibor Rubin, a Holocaust survivor, G.I. Joe, and POW during the Korean War, described his story and how appreciative he was towards the American soldiers who saved him while at the Austrian concentration camp Mauthausen-Gusen. In return, Rubin said a prayer and made a promise to God that he would serve in the army as a G.I. Joe and return the favor to America. In order to show Rubin’s suffering during the Holocaust, Timmis pulled footage from World War II, showing pictures as well as video of prisoners at the concentration camps.

For another Korean War Veteran and one of the Black Rangers, Paul T Lyles, who witnessed a sniper dying in a nearby tree, Timmis grabbed footage from World War II to depict Lyles’ story visually. “I wanted to show as much footage as possible to make it interesting,” explained Timmis, “and to show the audience some kind of action.” Paul T Lyles recently passed away at age 86. Timmis shared his sadness and further acknowledged the importance to show appreciation towards this generation’s war veterans.

At the conclusion of the documentary, Hannah Kim, one of Timmis’ last interviewees and founder of Remember 727, an organization dedicated to recognizing Korean War veterans, recalls a moment when she shared her appreciation towards a Korean War Veteran. Kim approached him while at church, and explained that his bravery and efforts during the war were the reason why she was able to become a Korean American. Otherwise, Kim emphasized, she wouldn’t be living in the United States. “I think a lot of veterans who watch the documentary appreciate the ending the most with her [Kim] expressing her thanks,” said Timmis. “It means a lot to them.”

Finnigan’s War is Timmis’ directorial debut and the film had its world premiere at the 2013 Las Vegas Film festival. The film won the ‘Audience Choice Award – Best Full Length Documentary’ at the 2013 Oceanside International Film Festival. All the profits from the film are given to Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs.

Timmis’ grandfather ultimately inspired him to make Finnigan’s War, but Timmis also desires to educate a younger generation about the Korean War, sometimes referred to as The Forgotten War. “The Korean War is not taught in schools as often,” explained Timmis. “I don’t really have an agenda. I just want people to feel appreciation [towards the veterans].” When asked how his grandfather would react to the film, Timmis said “I think my grandfather wondered if the war was worth it. He suffered a lot and felt no real good came from it. But, I think if he saw this movie, he would be at peace.”

Finnigan’s War is available on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Finnigans-War-Mark-Hamill/dp/B00FL97FK8.
The trailer on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiKKnC19TXM
Official website: http://www.finniganswar.com
The charity that all profits from Finnigan’s War goes to: http://www.coalitionoffamilies.org

Sarah Blood would like to thank the war veterans who have sacrificed their lives and souls for their country. The human spirit can only endure so much, and you have shown to what extent courage can conquer evil, for the mission and purpose to achieve peace and prosperity. Your unswaying loyalty and compassion towards your people, represents the spirit of America, and it will remain in our hearts and minds forever.


Finnigan's War is available on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Finnigans-War-Mark-Hamill/dp/B00FL97FK8. The trailer on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiKKnC19TXM Official website: http://www.finniganswar.com The charity that all profits from Finnigan’s War goes to: http://www.coalitionoffamilies.org Sarah Blood would like to thank the war veterans who have sacrificed their lives and souls for their country. The human spirit can only endure so much, and you have shown to what extent courage can conquer evil, for the mission and purpose to achieve peace and prosperity. Your unswaying loyalty and compassion towards your people, represents the spirit of America, and it will remain in our hearts and minds forever.