Five Questions With Filmmaker Michael Shipman

Michael Shipman is a former Army combat cameraman and a 2014 graduate of American University’s Master of Fine Arts program in Film and Electronic Media. Michael is currently continuing his federal service producing educational video content for the American Battle Monuments Commission, a small federal agency that commemorates the service, achievements and sacrifice of America’s armed forces through American cemeteries and memorials overseas.

Michael’s film, Never Forgotten, is playing at the 2015 GI Film Festival.

Where are you from and what is your film background?

I was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After graduating high school I moved to North Carolina to pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Film at Elon University. Following completion of my undergraduate studies in 2004 I enlisted in the U.S. Army where I served as a Combat Documentation/Production Specialist for six years. I transitioned to the Army Reserves for two additional years of service while I began work on my Master of Fine Arts Degree in Film at American University in Washington D.C.

My academic and professional experiences thus far have fostered a great personal interest in telling the stories of those who served before me. This interest led me to my current position working for the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), a small federal agency that commemorates the service, sacrifice and achievements of America’s armed forces through American cemeteries and memorials overseas. Never Forgotten represents my graduate thesis work, which was produced to support the invaluable mission of the ABMC.

Who are your biggest film influences and why?

It’s difficult for me to define a specific influence that has impacted my filmmaking.   I watch a wide variety of films for a number of reasons. I would venture to say that the direction my professional career is currently headed has been shaped more by family and life experience than a particular type or style of film.

What was the hardest part about getting the film made?

Never Forgotten tells the story of Sergeant Paul Maynard’s experiences during the First World War.

We only had 1-2 good photographs of Paul, so it was difficult in the beginning to make a documentary about someone who we had so little imagery of to incorporate into the film. We were able to overcome this obstacle by the kind donations of letters and other documents provided by the Maynard family. Through their support and the assistance of the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the overseas staff of the American Battle Monuments Commission we were able to create a film which we hope will ensure that Paul’s memory and the memory of all our allies who fell during this conflict are remembered.

What do you want viewers to take away with them after watching your film?

It’s been nearly 100 years since the First World War ended. The generation that fought this war has long since passed. The stories of their lives, both on and off the battlefield, need to be told and preserved now, otherwise they will be lost to time. I hope Never Forgotten inspires the public to take a renewed interest in learning the history of this generation of service men and women.

What is a fun fact about you that would surprise people?

This isn’t so much of a fun fact but rather an anecdote on what inspired the creation of this film. I worked as an audio visual production intern for the American Battle Monuments Commission during the summer of 2012 as a first year graduate film student at American University. That summer was the first of two occasions where I had the opportunity to visit the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Every morning I assisted the French and American staff with cleaning the approximately 14,000 headstones by hand—an impressive task. While cleaning the headstones, a staff member asked me, “Why is it that we only tell the stories of those service members who we have a lot of information on…” (i.e.- photographs, letters, etc.). He continued, “Every story here is important and each deserves to be told.” His comments resonated with me, and after that experience at the cemetery, I wanted to make a documentary film on a service member whose story probably would never be told otherwise. A year later I met Lisa Ann Maynard, and I knew right away that I wanted to share her great uncle Paul’s story.

Never Forgotten, directed by Michael Shipman, is playing at Angelika on May 23, 2015. Click here for tickets.