"I give this film my highest praise. I want people to see it to understand the deep thinking that went into the tough decision made by most veterans to serve in that lengthy and controversial military engagement—now remembered as the Vietnam War.
Many veterans paid a high price. The tribute to the fallen is breathtaking."
Jan Craig Scruggs, Esq.,
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
2600 Virginia Ave NW Suite 104
Washington DC 20037 www.vvmf.org
"My Father's Vietnam" is a powerful and gripping story---a worthy testament to complex lives and impossible choices made by young people coming of age while the world was in flames. These accidental heroes---soldiers, resisters, the women who waited and worried---emerge as fully human beings thrust into situations not of their making, struggling to make sense and create meaning out of chaos. This is a dazzling documentary and a necessary addition to the chronicle of the Viet Nam years.
Bill Ayers, author of Fugitive Days
"I can’t recommend it more highly as the best ‘war’ movie I’ve seen since Apocalypse Now as far as capturing all of the crazy emotions."
Michael J. Olson, Ed.D.
catharsis noun, ca·thar·sis \kə-ˈthär-səs\
: the act or process of releasing a strong emotion especially by expressing it in an art form
“My aunt's first husband, Loring "Ring" Bailey Jr. died in Vietnam. He was 24, a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford and a gifted writer. I never had the chance to meet him. I was born a bit more than six years after his March 15, 1970 death. I grew up with the stories, sometimes in whispers. His letters from Vietnam were compiled into a book. Now there is a film that, in part, tells his story. I was able to watch My Father's Vietnam this evening. My uncle Rik takes a prominent role in this film. I even saw an old picture that includes my father and mother. Although it is difficult to put into words, every Memorial Day I think of my Aunt and all of the other families who have shouldered the true burdens of war. How I feel about this is much more complicated than the hackneyed phrases of praise and patriotism so commonplace during such holidays. These mixed emotions are explored in this film. I recommend checking it out. It is available on Amazon, Fios on demand, iTunes and other outlets. Beware the Ides of March.”
“Thank you Dan, for these words. Ring was killed 46 years ago, and his death continues to ripple the fabric of our lives. You remind me that most of the family never met him and know him only through the space we continue to give to his life. Watch the documentary, read the letters, feel the power of his life and the unspeakable loss in his death.”
“I still really can't imagine, Maris. I'm sorry.”
Production began with a 2006 conversation between the filmmaker and his father, Peter Sorensen, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968, a year when American troop levels in Vietnam were growing at the same rate support for the War on the homefront was shrinking.
“For my generation, sons and daughters of the ‘baby boomers,’ enlisting in the military has always been a choice,” said Soren Sorensen. “So, 40 years later, the idea of enlisting during the Vietnam War, in a divisive political climate not unlike what we’re seeing now, seemed to me sort of inconsistent with common sense.”
He added, “I was a bit naïve.”
The film features the stories of two men Peter Sorensen served with who were killed in Vietnam in 1970. For first-time filmmaker Soren Sorensen, the production process—which included shoots in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, and Washington, DC—was an educational experience and a chance to get to know his father better.
“I came to realize that guys like my father didn’t really have a choice,” he said. “The romantic hindsight fantasy of burning your draft card and going to Canada had consequences related to your family, community, and financial situation that made it all but impossible.”
Sorensen continued: “Add to that the World War II generation looming large in history and culture. I think people wanted to live up to their parents’ expectations.”
The filmmaker says the process gave him a deeper understanding of the military and strengthened his relationship with his father.
“How could it not?” he said. “When you fly across the country and interview a complete stranger in Arizona about his experiences in Vietnam and he says, as my father says, ‘I’ve never had a conversation like this before,’ you realize just how silently Vietnam Veterans have carried the physical and psychological burdens of that war.”
He added, “Not only do you learn a tremendous amount, but you also gain an overwhelming sense of respect and gratitude.”
Peter Sorensen, the filmmaker’s father and one of the film’s primary subjects, said, “The film is more than the story of a father and a son. It's emblematic of the deleterious and ripple effect armed conflicts such as the Vietnam War have on entire families and ultimately the nation.”
The production turned out to be a multi-year odyssey for Soren Sorensen—who also produced, wrote, and edited the film—and Director of Photography Dan Akiba.
“Dan was the one who encouraged me to shoot the interview with my father in the first place,” said Soren Sorensen. “If it wasn’t for him, I might not have made the film at all.”
Featuring never-before-seen photographs and 8mm footage of the era, My Father’s Vietnam sheds new light on a disturbing chapter of American history that continues to deeply impact those who lived through it.
by Russell A. Potter
My Father’s Vietnam may seem at first a modest film, a merely personal
tale of the filmmaker’s father, a lost friend, and others who knew him. And
yet, slowly but surely, it reveals itself as a compact prism of the continuing
cultural presence of that chapter of the past we call the Vietnam war.
Of course we’re all used to this sort of thing; Vietnam was being
documented well before it was even over (Michael Rubbo’s Sad Song of
Yellow Skin), and its shadow through dramatic films is perhaps the longest
of any war, taking us from Kazan’s The Visitors (1972), Coppola’s
Apocalypse Now (1979), Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) to Herzog’s
Rescue Dawn (2006); it’s become in some ways the quintessential
American story. As a result, we have the false impression that it’s all too
familiar, perhaps even played out. What, another Vietnam War
But familiarity can also be a way of forgetting, of papering-over the rough
edges of pain and discomfort with layer after layer of representation. It’s
the genius of this film that it peels back those layers, one at a time, until at
last the armature of lived experience is revealed. Thus its emotional force
creeps up gradually, through personal interviews with friends and family,
slow snippets of 8mm footage, and montages of some the filmmaker’s
father’s journalistic work and war photos. The structure is close enough to
convention that, when the last layers begin to fray, we’re caught almost by
surprise, and the memories of those interviewed seem, for a moment,
almost our own.
The most potent moment of the film, strikingly, comes not from Peter
Sorensen but Rik Carlson, Loring Bailey’s brother-in-law whom we first
come to know as the long-haired anti-war counterpart to the straight-laced
crew-cut kid. He’s a compelling figure for the camera, soft-spoken and
direct, for whom the grief of the news of Loring’s death has never faded. His
recollection of the day the news was delivered is still vivid, still painful:
“You see it in movies, you know, the olive green sedan with the dress
uniforms that drives up to the house – and there was the olive green
sedan in front of my mother’s house, and my sister was there … and the
army men were there … and their shoes were so fuckin’ shiny.”
Rik remembers how, “when they were leaving, I said to them, in my anger, I
said it’s too bad he was fighting on the wrong side.” It’s a potent moment,
and becomes even more so when, near the film’s conclusion, we learn that
Rik’s son is now a Marine, of whom he’s enormously proud; in that
moment, a new dimension of the man, and the film as well, leaps out of the
screen and directly into the audience’s soul.
Ring Bailey, who is both the film’s reason for being and its most elusive
subject, remains at that distance given all men killed in combat; his
documentary next-of-kin might just as well be the soldiers whose letters are
read in Ken Burns’s “Civil War.” But it’s the mark he made on those he
loved, and who loved him, that endures, bringing memories and those who
carry them back for one more go, one more grasp toward closure of a
wound that will never be healed.
All great films about the past, whether dramas or documentaries, are
always really about the present, and the future as well. There are things that
cannot be undone, the dead who live on only in memory and mementos, in
faded Kodachromes and toy cars; there are those who remain, aging as we
all must, testifying to how these days shaped their lives, and there are those
things that are yet to come, whose potential is yet unknown. It’s not
mentioned in the film, which opens and closes with an image of the
filmmaker’s ancestor, Soren Peter Sorensen I, in his Danish military
uniform, but it’s not a name that will be given again; the son of this
Sorensen’s name is Ring.
Russell A. Potter is the author of several books including FINDING
FRANKLIN: THE UNTOLD STORY OF A 165-YEAR SEARCH, and a contributor to
FILMS ON ICE: CINEMAS OF THE ARCTIC.
Made possible in part through generous support from:
J & A Pump and Motor Service, Inc. South Burlington, Vermont