Given the fact Vietnam was the first war televised in almost-real time, one might think there is nothing new to be discovered about the conflict that still haunts American citizens and policy-makers nearly 40 years after the last helicopters took off from Saigon.
Director Rory Kennedy illustrates otherwise with this dive into the last days at the U.S. embassy, showing the moral dilemma Americans faced as they received orders from Washington D.C. to evacuate the country, and leave their allies from the South Vietnamese army and citizenry behind.
Kennedy lets the voices of her interview subjects tell the story of the frantic final stand in 1975, as the North Vietnamese army swept through the country and surrounded Saigon, and her sources are wide-ranging. Kennedy talks to plenty of people who were on the ground at the scene, from CIA agents and U.S. soldiers stationed at the embassy to South Vietnamese soldiers trying to get their families out of the country and Vietnamese citizens ultimately left behind at the embassy grounds. Also on hand for interviews--Henry Kissinger and other D.C. power players still trying to explain away their mistakes from decades ago.
Drawing on remarkable footage of the scene on the ground, Kennedy tells the story of an obstinate ambassador in charge who refuses to consider the U.S. forces would need an evacuation plan, as well as the underlings with a better grasp on reality who went about setting up a secret evacuation for both U.S. forces and South Vietnamese assets they'd worked with on the ground for years.
Finding positives in America's experience in Vietnam is a rare thing, but seeing Americans risk their own lives for the sake of thousands of Vietnamese allies rather than simply taking care of the Americans--and seeing the pain caused by the fact they couldn't save all the people who descended on the embassy in these final days--shows that there were some honorable men representing the U.S. in the country, right to the bitter end.
Saturday, Jan. 25, 6 p.m., Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City