Rory Kennedy presents"Last Days In Vietnam" at SMC
Last Wednesday Art 214 was aglow with images from the final, tragic moments of the Vietnam War. Students and faculty were being treated to a special screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Last Days In Vietnam." The documentary was presented along with a Q&A moderated by SMC English professor David Burak featuring a special guest, the film's director, Rory Kennedy. he She is the youngest child of Robert Kennedy, her connection to the history shown in the film is immediate. The film itself is a chronicle of how the Vietnam War came to an end as North Vietnamese forces made their way to Saigon and U.S. personnel and allies left the country.
Figures ranging from Henry Kissinger to Vietnamese officials and former U.S. army pilots appear in the film recounting the end of a war that has marked the last four decades of American history. In one moment footage appears of President Gerald Ford addressing Congress, asking for funds to not only evacuate Americans in Vietnam, but Vietnamese allies and contractors. The scope of U.S. involvement in the conflict becomes blunt and clear.
After the film Kennedy appeared from within the audience to speak before the audience and answer questions. "In part I was asked to make this film. PBS approached me and asked if I would be interested in a film on the final days of the war," explained Kennedy when asked what inspired her to make the documentary.
"I felt so much had been done about Vietnam and started doing research on the final days and I realized how little I actually knew," she added. "The overwhelming, dominant response from audiences is 'I can't believe we don't know this story."
Kennedy also drew parallels with the recent U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that as those wars began to wind down, she felt there were lessons to be revisited from the controversial war that marked the generation of the 1960s. "Although this was an event that happened 40 years ago, it was still very timely."
When discussing the craft of making the film, in particular its skillful merging of archival footage and an intense musical score, Kennedy said "The archival footage was particularly important to me. We wanted to transport people back to Saigon in 1975. The best way to do that was not through graphics or animation but by using as much 'real' as possible. I had a great team that went deep into archival houses to find footage and sound never used before."
Kennedy also sought help from officials in the U.S. Navy and other departments to acquire testimonials and footage. "We were given a box of super 8 footage that had never been transferred before from the battleship Kirk," she revealed. "We transferred the footage and it was a treasure trove. You see helicopters being pushed over the deck."
When asked what politicians should take from the film, especially with new conflicts brewing in the Middle East, Kennedy responded by saying that "it makes me happy when audiences make the connection between what happened here and what happened in Iraq. Questions about responsibility. We need to understand our investment in wars, especially what happens to people left behind."
"The question is whether you get into a war or not," said Kennedy while emphasizing that dealing with situations such as the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq raises tough questions with few, if any, easy answers.
"You can lose control, as we did here [in Vietnam]," said Kennedy.
After "Last Days In Vietnam" became a success in the art house circuit and upon its airing on PBS as part of the American Experience program, Kennedy will now begin work on a number of different projects. "I have a lot of ideas," she said. "A whole gallery to choose from."
A major amount of campus entities joined together to make the event possible including the Black Collegians, Latino Center, the SMC Veteran's Resource Center, The SMC Associates, Grit Initiative and the Film Studies & English Department.