‘Dear Dad,’ opens 2010 Carolina Film and Video Festival

by Keith Barber

“Dear Dad,” is the story a former NFL line- man’s fight against Alzheimer’s Disease as chronicled by his daughter. (courtesy photo)

The magic of documentary film comes from the simple fact that it’s unscripted. A documentary filmmaker may begin a project with a clear vision of what he or she hopes to accomplish, but that vision quickly begins to evolve as they delve deep into their subject matter. Such is the case of Melissa Pihos and her short documentary film, “Dear Dad,.”

Pihos’ six-minute documentary will screen at the 2010 Carolina Film and Video Festival at the Elliott University Center Auditorium on the campus of UNCG on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. The festival kicks off on Wednesday night with a 7 p.m. screening of Sons of Lwala. Thirty-six films will be screened during the four-day festival, which will conclude Saturday with an awards ceremony and a showcase of the winning films.

A graduate student in UNCG’s dance program, Pihos took a documentary film class at UNCG last year and decided to produce the short film to document her father’s current struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. As she researched her father’s life, she discovered the narrative thread that would bind her film together.

Melissa’s father, Pete, was a standout tight end and defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1947 to 1955. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Pihos was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970.

As Melissa began looking through old family photos with her mother, she rediscovered a letter her father had sent to her at age 12, shortly after her parents separated. In the first version of the film, Melissa said she narrated the letter as photos of her and her father filled the screen.

Then, a classmate suggested she write a letter to her father. “Everyone kept saying, ‘Why don’t you show your relationship with him, what it’s like now and what it was like in the past,’” Melissa said.

Writing the letter was the easy part, Melissa said.

Stepping inside a recording booth and reading the letter without breaking down into tears was a bit tougher.

Melissa describes her father as a positive, giving and loving person.

“Whatever I wanted, whatever I needed, whatever I wanted to do, he would make it happen for me,” she said. Even though my parents were divorced, he made it to all my dance recitals, my volleyball and soccer games.”

Since Pete was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 13 years ago, he can’t remember much of his life, Melissa said. The desire to help her father hold on to his memories is the driving force behind “Dear Dad,.”

She discovered a young man with amazing resilience. Pete, a first generation Greek American, suffered the tragic loss of his father at age 14. Shortly thereafter, Melissa’s grandmother uprooted her son from Orlando, Fla. to Chicago, where she remarried.

Pete Pihos was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1945 but didn’t begin his pro career until 1947 due to his service in the US Army. Melissa said her father served under General George S. Patton and participated in the second wave of the Invasion of Normandy.

And there’s so much more to the story. Melissa said she is still discovering bits and pieces of her dad’s life, which is why she hopes to develop the project into a feature-length film.

“It’s still part of the journey because I’m still trying to piece the rest of his life together,” she said. “The film’s done but every time I watch it I cry; I can’t hold it together.”

The film had its world premiere at the Twin Rivers Media Festival in Asheville last May, where it won a thirdplace award for experimental film and the North Carolina Achievement Award. “Dear Dad,” also won the Award of Merit for Short Documentary at Indie Fest.

“Dear Dad,” represents just one of many cinematic gems at this year’s Carolina Film and Video Festival.

wanna go? Carolina Film & Video Festival Elliott University Center Auditorium