“Never The Same: The Prisoner of War Experience”

Never the same -- A two-hour documentary focusing on Americans held as Japanese prisoners of war during World War II will premiere at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center, April 6-7. “Never The Same: The Prisoner of War Experience,” by Jan Thompson, an associate professor at SIU Carbondale, features narration by Emmy Award-winning actress Loretta Swit, and vocal talents of actors including Alec Baldwin, Ed Asner, Jamie Farr, Mike Farrell and Kathleen Turner.  This image from the documentary shows POWs aboard a Japanese “Hell Ship,” used to transport prisoners to Japan and Manchuria for slave labor.  (Photo provided)

March 13, 2013

Thompsons new POW film to premiere in Chicago

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Another chapter in Jan Thompson’s mission to give a voice to veterans held as Japanese prisoners of war during World War II will unfold next month in Chicago.

Thompson’s two-hour documentary, “Never The Same: The Prisoner of War Experience,” features narration by Emmy Award-winning actress Loretta Swit, and the vocal talents of actors including Alec Baldwin, Ed Asner, Jamie Farr, Mike Farrell, Robert Loggia, Kathleen Turner, Robert Wagner and Sam Waterston.  The film celebrates and commemorates “courageous men who used ingenuity, creativity and humor to survive one of the most notorious times in history,” said Thompson, whose late father was a POW after his capture on Corregidor in the spring of 1942.

The premiere is at 7:45 p.m., April 6, at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 164 N. State St.  A second showing is set for 5:30 p.m., April 7.  There will also be a question-and-answer session with Thompson and former POWs after each session.

April 9 is the anniversary of the Bataan Death March and National POW Recognition Day.

Media Advisory

For more information on the documentary or for interviews, contact Jan Thompson by email at JanIThompson@gmail.com.  She is also available to assist media outlets, at their request, in identifying former POWs for additional interviews and local coverage.

The project has been a focal point for the past 22 years for Thompson, an associate professor in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Radio, Television and Digital Media, since first hearing veterans’ stories while attending a POW convention with her parents.  She began to collect stories of the men whom she warmly refers to as “my guys,” and her more than two decades of research includes travels throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia in search of archival film and documents.

Her film picks up in the aftermath of the Bataan Death March, which Thompson highlighted in an award-winning 2011 documentary, “The Tragedy of Bataan.”  Baldwin narrated that effort and a five-piece radio series that also chronicled the march.

In the new documentary, the actors, which also include Robert Forster, Christopher Franciosa, Christopher Murray, Don Murray and John O’Hurley, dramatize entries from 17 diaries, along with poems, and songs.  The film also includes more than 140 original drawings and cartoons, ranging from ingenious traps for catching rats and other animals for food, to recipes and cookbooks.

Thompson is the film’s writer, director, editor, and music composer.  She spent three weeks in New York City and Los Angeles, and by telephone directing the actors and actresses who came to recording studios for their roles.  Each of the actors respected the material.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to work with this type of talent,” she said.  There was a genuine interest in participating once the actors heard of the project.  One actor said it was his patriotic duty to participate in a story previously not done, Thompson said.

“U.S. history classes rarely tell the story of the Japanese POWs plight, particularly relating to the Bataan Death March,” said Thompson, a three-time Emmy-award winning documentary producer and writer.

“I am committed to their story and will continue to try to get information and material out to the public so that it is not lost because the men are passing away.  I want to continue to champion them.  In some respects, Alec is one of the main voices out there for this story.

“There are many of us who believe it is a story that should not be forgotten because there are a lot of lessons to be learned,” she said.

Swit, a two-time Emmy Award-winning-actress best known for her role as Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on the iconic television series “M*A*S*H,” has been very gracious and helpful. “She loved the script and knew exactly where I was going with it,” Thompson said.

The film includes military veterans Farr and Farrell, who were Swit’s co-stars on M*A*S*H -- providing a military connection that many will notice right away.  Thompson views the film as a human rights and anti-war film.  In many ways, M*A*S*H also was in that vein in trying to show how horrible war is -- and should not be the answer of trying to resolve conflict, she said.

Thompson said she hopes audiences understand and appreciate what people will and can do in order to survive.  But she also hopes that audiences recognize that those who experience these types of atrocities never return home the same.

“Here is a generation that never really did get any type of help, and if they did, most of the men I know did not get help until they were in their 60s or 70s,” she said.  “Many men didn’t get help; my own father didn’t.  I know what he went through and witnessed.  The experience made an impact on him.”

It was during her research for the documentary that she came upon footage in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., of her father, clearly looking into the camera during the liberation of his Manchurian prison camp in September 1945.  Her father passed away last year.

“This has been built frame by frame with my hands and heart,” Thompson said.

The film has already earned honors – recently chosen as “Best of Competition” in the Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) Festival of Media Arts competition.  She is beginning to schedule screenings at film festivals around the country, including at a culinary festival in New Orleans.

More information is available at the film’s website, nts-pow.com/.