LCF Editor Exposes Syria Tragedy in Documentary

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Derek Chin

Derek Chin hopes you’ll tune in. And that you won’t look away.
He’s part of the team that is bringing “The Volunteers,” a documentary about people voluntarily risking their lives in the fight against ISIS, to the AT&T Audience Network on DirecTV. The film will air in two parts, at 10 p.m. on Nov. 11 and 12.
For Chin, a film editor whose prior credits mostly include reality TV shows such as “The Profit,” “American Ninja Warrior” and “Top Chef,” his contribution to the documentary represents the most difficult, meaningful work of his career.
“When I first saw the footage, I realized this is not a television show, it’s a mission,” said Chin, who has lived in La Cañada Flintridge with his family since 2007.
“I’m never going to pick up a rifle and shoot at ISIS, but I can use a weapon that I’ve trained in for more than 19 years and use that against ISIS. Artistry and communication is far more powerful than an AK-47. I felt that I could use that documentary to expose the atrocities that ISIS is committing against children, literally children, and expose to the world their ideology.”
“The Volunteers,” executive produced by Ricky Schroder, follows filmmaker River Rainbow Hagg on a mission to witness firsthand the war in northern Syria. Hagg embeds with a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters in an area known as Rojava, where he and a dedicated, misfit band of western volunteer medics try to save lives, and survive.
The documentary depicts operations and individuals battling Islamic State militants and providing medical support to those injured in the fighting.
Recent news reports from Syria describe ISIS’s ouster from the urban strongholds it had occupied and its relocation deep into the vast, rugged desert. Experts warn the group is preparing for its next incarnation, which could resemble its predecessor, al Qaida in Iraq.
From his editing bay, Chin became intimately familiar with imagines of carnage, courtesy of ISIS.
His first day editing on the project, Chin began work on a scene documenting the brutal aftermath of an attack involving children.
“They were trying to evacuate civilians from the ISIS occupied city of Manbij,” Chin said. “But the problem is ISIS doesn’t want civilians to flee; they want to use civilians as human shields. So they put landmines on the outskirts of the city.

Photo courtesy Derek Chin
La Cañada Flintridge resident Derek Chin (left) edited “The Volunteers,” a documentary that follows River Rainbow Hagg (right) as he tries to save lives — and stay alive — in Syria. The film will air on DirecTV on Nov. 11 and 12.

“[Local residents] had stuffed as many children as they could into this vehicle to get them out of the city and, unfortunately, the vehicle hits a landmine. So they’re bringing these children to River Rainbow, and he had to triage them, to try and save as many as they could.
“There’s this child on the bed, and he’s naked, because they had to tear off his clothes to get to the wounds, and one of the main characters, he’s just stroking his head, trying to soothe him and he’s wailing and they wait for the doctor to get to him. There’s nothing more he could do.”
To do his job, Chin had to spend hours with that footage, watching it and re-watching it, splicing it together in a way that dutifully tells the gruesome, awful story.
“The only way I was able to get through the footage was to tell myself, ‘Their story needs to be told, this is an opportunity for me to be a voice for the voiceless,’” Chin said. “Even River Rainbow, who experienced it live said, ‘You know, I went through it, but it when it was done, it was over. For you, as an editor, you have to relive it and relive it and relive it.’”
Chin said he frequently took breaks. He had to.
“So many times I had to just stand up and take a walk around outside and just breathe,” Chin said. “And then I’d be like, ‘OK, I’ve gotta tell their story,’ and then go back.”
Chin — whose very next project was an abrupt departure, involving Guy Fieri searching for the next Food Network star — hopes to handle such difficult material again.
“I’m looking to do more,” he said. “As hard as it was, because of the subject matter, I want to be able to do important work. I want to be able to use the training I have and the skills I have developed to be able to tell these stories.”
Chin’s path to film editing started in Hong Kong. He was a student at UC San Diego, living abroad as an exchange student.
“I got discovered on the streets and became a model and an actor in Hong Kong,” Chin said, chuckling at the memory. “I was just having fun, and I didn’t get rich by any means. But being in front of the camera got me interested in getting behind the camera.”
When he returned to the United States, he applied to USC’s school of Cinematic Arts, where he studied film and television before graduating with the serious intention of directing. And he did.
But it didn’t take long to discover he wasn’t a director.
“God bless those people who are able to direct and think fast on their feet and make quick decisions on the fly and adapt to every problem that will inevitably hit a set, but I’m not that person,” said Chin, who now teaches editing as an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University. “I’m too much of a perfectionist. I want everything to be lined up perfectly.”
The concept of 30-frames-per-second control, now that shoe fit.
“When I first tried editing, I edited for 24 hours straight,” Chin said. I didn’t go to the bathroom, I hardly ate, I hardly slept, and I thought, ‘I think I found what I want to do.’”
He has a similar sense of purpose editing “The Volunteers,” the third war documentary from Schroder’s company, which also produced “The Fighting Season,” and “My Fighting Season.”
“[I want] as many people as possible to see this very important work,” he said. “The more people know about it, the more people who will hopefully watch it and be affected by it.”

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