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Interview:
Ken Burns' "The Vietnam War" at Cinteopia; 5 Things To Know
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Ken Burns and his team are at it again.

The award-winning documentarian is preparing for the Sept. 17 premiere of “The Vietnam War” on PBS, a characteristically ambitious (10 episodes, 18 hours) that examines all aspects of the conflict, dating back to its roots in the mid-19th century up to the present day, including on-camera interviews with more than 100 participants and others who lived through it, on both sides.

As part of the roll-out Burns and his team have been traveling the country to offer sneak previews and discuss the project, and co-director • Lynn Novick and producer Sarah Botstein will be part of a Friday night, June 9, as part of the Cinetopia Film Festival.

Novick and Burns decided to make “The Vietnam War” during late 2006 and began production in 2010. “Ken Burns, myself, our writer, we thought we knew quite a bit about the Vietnam War when we started the project,” Novick says by phone from her office in New York. “Once we started to dig through it we realized every day how much we didn’t know. So for us there have been these moments one after the other of discovering things we never really knew, or knew much about, that are important pieces of the story. I think our film will raise a lot of questions and not answer all of them -- some are unanswerable, even.”

• Novick adds that she and Burns, “Have a very strong sense that the Vietnam War is one of the most important events in American history since World War II, one of the most polarizing and divisive and contentious. It’s also a chapter in our history that we really didn’t know much about when we started to dig below the surface. It was enormously polarizing and traumatic, and there are many, many issues that were part of the story that have never been fully examined or dealt with. It got lost in the sense that maybe we don’t talk about it, except in a kind of shorthand. But it’s not really lost because it’s still there kind of festering away and exerting a specific gravity on our sense of ourselves and on our foreign policy, for good and for bad.”

• The filmmakers, according to Novick, were also “determined to not just make a film about the Vietnam War that’s only about Americans and ignores enormously important parts of the story from the (Vietnamese) perspective. We heard from the Vietnamese how it’s been so traumatic for them, too, from the former South Vietnamese who lost the war and lost their country and everything they had and came over here (to America) as refugees from a country that didn’t exist and America was embarrassed about abandoning. And in Vietnam itself, people on the sinning side were also profoundly traumatized by a war that caused such extraordinary suffering. At the moment there’s quite a bit of questioning going on in Vietnam about the cost of the war and whether the liberation of the country, as they call it, could’ve been accomplished some other way.”

• Novick says that the sneak previews have confirmed to the filmmakers that “The Vietnam War” will provide plenty of revelations to the audience, too. “We had a screening in New York not too long ago,” Novick recalls, “and a veteran stood up and said, ‘I came home from Vietnam in 1970. It was very hard coming home. My family didn’t really want to talk about it. The country was divided. It was very painful. We just didn’t talk about it, like our country has a case of amnesia about the Vietnam War. I think your film is going to change that.’ That was very gratifying. That’s why we made the film in the first place. For a veteran to feel that was encouraging.”

• “The Vietnam War” also incorporates the culture and counterculture of the time, including 120 songs from the war era. “We really wanted to look at what happened to culture in that time -- our music, our television, how people dressed, how people talked. Everything changed,” says Novick, crediting co-producer Botstein with “securing cooperation from every important artist of the time -- the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, the Animals, Paul Simon, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Bob Dylan at the top of that list. They all agreed we wanted music to be part of this film and understood it was the way to have their music represented in the context of when they made it.”



If You Go:

• “The Vietnam War” sneak preview, with co-director Lynn Novick and producer Sarah Botstein

• 7 p.m. Friday, June 9.

• Cinetopia Film Festival at the Detroit Film Theatre in the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave.

• Tickets are $10; Military veterans get a free ticket with the purchase of another, with military ID.

• Call 313-833-9700 or visit cinteopiafestival.com.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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