How One Small Visit to Neil Armstrong’s family became an inspiring tale...

How One Small Visit to Neil Armstrong’s family became an inspiring tale of courage and humanity

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one small visit

In 1969, months after Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, an Indian immigrant family took a giant leap of faith and showed up unannounced at the famed astronaut’s parental home in small town America. What happened next is an extraordinary story which has been turned into a short film called One Small Visit. The award-winning movie recounts how two families from very different cultures found a human connection at a time of profound social unrest and political divisiveness. 

Before a private screening of the film in Paris, I spoke to writer, director, and producer Josephine (Jo) Chim and producer Dr. Anisha Abraham, who was a baby when her family visited the Armstrongs in Wapakoneta, Ohio. 

The Abraham family poses with Neil Armstrong's parents on their porch.
Anisha Abraham, her parents, and her grandmother pose with Neil Armstrong’s parents on their porch. Courtesy of Anisha Abraham.

Anisha, One Small Visit tells the incredible true story of your family. How and why your family ended up at the doorstep of Neil Armstrong’s parents’ home in 1969?

Anisha: My grandmother was enamored with Neil Armstrong after watching the moon landing. She happened to notice that our family was driving through Wapakoneta, the hometown of Neil Armstrong. She asked my father to stop at a local diner. While at the diner she asked for directions to Neil Armstrong’s parents’ home. Through her persistence, they ended up at his parents’ doorstep. The rest of this incredible story is unveiled during the movie!               

Jo, Anisha, how and when did you decide to turn this story into a movie? Why is it important to tell this story now, more than 50 years after the fact?  

Anisha: Our world has become very polarized. There are so many issues now that mirror what was occurring then, with the civil rights protests, etc., in the late 1960s. As a pediatrician, adolescent health specialist and mom of two teens, I believe that it is so important that we share our personal stories and experiences so future generations can learn. This movie is a very personal form of storytelling.     

Scene from the film One Small Visit with actors portraying Anisha’s grandmother and her parents. © Coffee Partners Media Productions.

 

Jo:  I first heard the story over a dinner party that Anisha threw more than a decade ago in Hong Kong where she used to live and where we met. I remember being amazed by the serendipity in the tale and it always stayed with me. But it wasn’t until 2018 that the story came up again and Anisha suggested I speak with her mother who is a magnetic storyteller. As she was telling me the details of that trip, certain scenes such as the women walking down Main Street, USA played before my eyes. I was totally captivated. I wrote it out first as a short story but then realized it was so visually rich, that film would be a better format. For me, the themes we deal with are still relevant to today and I wanted to create a type of parable to learn from it.

Anisha Abraham, Producer of One Small Visit. Photo courtesy of Coffee Partners Media Productions.

What messages are you trying to convey in your film?

Anisha: There are many messages, including the theme that seen from space, the planet has no borders. We need to treat each other with dignity, kindness, and respect regardless of our background or appearance. Also, that there is only one earth, and we need to protect it. In addition, if we don’t try and be persistent, we will never know what opportunities are in front of us.

Jo: Curiosity, kindness, and connection. May we be as bold as Elizabeth George, Anisha’s feisty grandmother and as kind as the Armstrong family to welcome total strangers inside their home. Through that willingness to listen to each other, may we find connection and discover the dreams and values we share as one human race.

Filmmakers and friends Jo Chim and Anisha Abraham. Photo courtesy of Coffee Partners Media Productions.

You have mentioned that the film addresses issues of race, identity and belonging. How have you each grappled with those issues in your own lives? 

Anisha: I was the first Indian-American to graduate from my high school in Delaware. When I was growing up there were very few people who looked like me. It wasn’t until college that I met other Indian-Americans. I have since lived and worked in several places around the world including in Hong Kong and the Netherlands. Each time I moved, I grappled with issues related to identity, race and belonging.

Being able to connect with others that share your culture and background can be very important. However, it’s also important to connect with people that have different perspectives. That is how we grow and break down boundaries.

Jo Chim, Writer, Director & Producer of One Small Visit. Photo courtesy of Coffee Partners Media Productions.

 

Jo: Born in Hong Kong but raised in different parts of West Africa, Canada, and the US, I’ve been a global nomad most of my life. I’ve often been outside or in between cultures and trying to find my place. Growing up in suburban Canada in the 1980s was where I faced the brunt of what I term “casual racism” — mostly name-calling and slurs. I really struggled with fitting in and reconciling how my immigrant parents were raising me in this new country.

In my mid-20s I lived in Atlanta, Georgia for a month and the racism was much more frequent and pronounced. It was the first time I feared for my physical safety. Even as recently as 2020, while traveling in Europe, I was insulted and mocked for being Asian in both Zurich and southern Spain. To this day, the moment I’m in any type of small town in North America or Europe I’m immediately on guard.

Fortunately, when I was in eighth grade I attended an international school in Lagos, Nigeria, where I learned not only to be comfortable with but also proud of being bi-cultural and different. I began to realize that it’s one of my superpowers.

Anisha Abraham with her mother Nirmala Abraham. Photo courtesy of Coffee Partners Media Productions.

As a website and community for women, we love the fact that there are such strong female characters in your film — not to mention the impressive female filmmakers! Tell us about the women portrayed in One Small Visit.

Anisha: I grew up with very strong women in my family. My grandmother was fearless, believed in herself and did not take no for an answer. She was also intensely curious about others and the world around her.  My mother, aunts and sister also embody these incredible qualities.

Jo: These strong women, who I like to call lovely, bold and badass, were one of the primary reasons I wanted to make this film. At the beginning of this crazy journey, when I was often filled with self-doubt or anxiety, I would catch myself thinking “what would Elizabeth George do?” and it fuelled me to just try and to take that leap of faith.

Filmmaking in between COVID variants meant regular testing and wearing masks. Photo courtesy of Coffee Partners Media Productions.

Can you share some of the trials and tribulations of making your first independent (“indie”) film during COVID and any key lessons you learned from the experience?

Jo: To do the story justice, I wanted it to look and feel a certain way and to produce a high-quality film. It’s a period film and has many locations so it required a higher budget than most short films. So, the first challenge was raising the money. I had never really fundraised before. Asking was a big hurdle for me. But once I got over that, the generosity of friends and family willing to fund our film was amazing.

I’m based in Hong Kong and my production company, Coffee Partners Media, is in Toronto; so, we did all the pre-production over Zoom. We shot in Fall 2021, in between Covid variants, and we had to provide regular testing and masks, which added costs to an already stretched indie budget. More importantly, if ANY one of us got sick, crew or cast, we didn’t have the possibility of delaying the shoot days and coming back to it. So that was stressful. 

Plus, there were all the regular trials of shooting indie: bad weather days (it rained three out of the six shooting days), vintage car trouble, working with a baby actor. Given all those challenges, we had an incredibly warm and loving set. It was the most intense and joyful act of communal creation I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve always believed in teamwork; but this really proved how much more you can achieve when you gather like-minded souls together.

One Small Visit film poster with award laurelsYour film has already won awards including Best Foreign Film at the 2022 LA Shorts Festival and Audience Choice Award for Best Short at the 2023 Cleveland International Film Festival. Where can our readers in France and internationally see One Small Visit?

Anisha:  You can go to our One Small Visit website, Facebook or Instagram accounts to follow where we’ll be showing next. We are always looking for new ways to promote the movie and bring it to broader platforms.

Jo: Currently, we’re still doing the film festival circuit and holding special screenings like the one coming up in Paris. Our little film has already traveled to many places we would never have even imagined: the Academy Awards Screening Room, NASA Headquarters, the planetarium at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Paris and even NATO Headquarters in Brussels. We are actively looking for distribution on broadcast channels and streaming services to make One Small Visit more widely available.

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