Last month was the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Some Vietnam Vets are just beginning to talk about what they witnessed in the war. Some still keep it to themselves, but startle at the sound of a helicopter overhead. Everyone touched by war is changed forever. Fifty-eight thousand American men died and many more were injured and suffered devastating symptoms from Agent Orange. In what the Vietnamese know as "The American War" an estimated three million Vietnamese military personnel and civilians died – a number that is hard to fathom. Vietnam is still littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance, called "uxo," which act as slow weapons of mass destruction causing - on average – sometimes a few serious accident per week. According to Clear Path International, an organization that works to help landmine/uxo victims in Vietnam, this year has been a particularly bad one. Since January there have been 28 accidents killing 5 people and injuring 30.
Tragedies spawn art as a way for people to express feelings that are inexpressible with mere words. We have seen dramas emerge like "Full Metal Jacket," "Platoon," and "Apocalypse Now." We've seen documentaries that deal with the American political climate during the Vietnam era such as Sam Green's fascinating "The Weather Underground." "Hearts & Minds," is Peter Davis' classic documentary which was re-released last year. It is credited as being the first film to introduce Americans to the Vietnamese as full human beings rather than stereotypes. This changed the way Americans viewed the war and the Vietnamese people.
"Daughter From Danang" follows an American adoptee from Vietnam when she returns to her birthplace and all the complex and overwhelming cross-cultural and identity issues that plague her. "Mai's America" chronicles a former Vietcong soldier's daughter's experience as an exchange student in the American deep south. It is taut and dramatic and makes you want to jump into the screen and save Mai from the awful families she happens to be placed with.
Word has it that there are a lot of exciting films from filmmakers who are Vietnamese and of Vietnamese descent. Last month the second edition of the Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF) in Irvine, California, was held over an eight day period, screening 37 films. The films explore Vietnamese historical and contemporary issues and the Vietnamese Diaspora. One of the documentaries is "Each Grain of Rice," a sweet and lively film about a nurturing woman who runs an orphanage in Saigon with 120 of Vietnam's 1.5 million orphans. A "featurette" of the new drama "After the Fall" by director Ham Tran was screen, about the so-called "boat people" who left Vietnam in boats after the fall of Saigon. It is beautifully filmed with spectacular tropical scenery, and I eagerly await a screening of the whole film. Ham Tran's "The Anniversary" the award-winning 30 minute drama follows a family over thirty years; two brothers reunite in the war.
Two of the most compelling documentaries are both told from women's perspective. One by PBS Productions by KACT, St. Paul is "A Time To Heal." Nurses who served in the war are interviewed. Their stories are haunting and full of humanity and goodwill for the people on all sides. "Regret To Inform" is an American war widow, Barbara Sonneborn's journey back to the land where her husband was killed. Sonneborn interviews women who fought against her husband and women on the other side of the conflict who also lost their husbands. There are few documentaries that can do justice to such a profound experience and achieve the pace, composition, feeling, and tone that Sonneborn achieved. "Regret To Inform" and some of the other films are sadly timely again today as the Iraq deaths mount and the hoards of Iraq vets start to come home and make sense of what they witnessed.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 5/05
30th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon – Vietnam War Related Films
The Vietnam War ended April 30, 1975.