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American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam
Last Days in Vietnam is a documentary film from director Rory Kennedy (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, Ethel) that focuses on some of the events which occurred during the final weeks of the Vietnam War. The documentary explores stories shared by several individuals with first-hand accounts of how the war came to an end and what happened in the process to get there by utilizing interviews and archival footage.
The documentary featuring interviews with Henry Kissinger, Stuart Herrington, Juan Valdez, Frank Snepp, and others. The inclusion of archival footage also shows material with Richard Nixon and Graham Martin, who was the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam. The interviews help to present detailed accounts of events that happened towards the end of the Vietnam War.
The main focus of the documentary is on a small group of individuals who helped to save the lives of many South Vietnamese people who were trying to leave the country when North Vietnam and it's army began to close in on Saigon. As the result would have been death or imprisonment as many South Vietnamese citizens needed to be saved as possible. Putting their established careers at risk, the documentary explores the risks taken by some individuals who went on unsanctioned efforts to save as many people as possible. These operations are explored in the Last Days in Vietnam.
The archival footage utilized for the documentary film, most of which is not news-related, showcases some of these mission attempts undertaken with shocking footage showing the sheer volume of people trying to board onto aircrafts and save their lives to head towards America. There was chaos as the people tried to evacuate and many had to try and leave within a 24 hour period: many even had to have a connection to someone to be able to have an opportunity to leave. During some of these missions, footage showcases people surviving and getting to boats and thereby having to push off the aircrafts that brought them there because of limited space and because of the damage that occurred to the aircrafts.
Last Days in Vietnam is an important documentary that explores the efforts made by the few to save the many. This documentary gives a different sort of glimpse into the last days of the war, which provides insights that needed to be shared and explored in documentary-form. A lot of documentaries explore the war itself and what occurred during it. This one explores the final moments of the war and the heroic efforts made by some to help save the lives of many of the South Vietnamese citizens. It's an essential historical document which director Rory Kennedy brought together tremendously well.
Last Days in Vietnam arrives on DVD with a 16:9 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. At first glance, the quality of the presentation might seem to be rather poor given the quality of many of the source materials being inconsistent. However, the footage is actually in rather good shape given filming conditions and age, and the newly recorded interviews and crisp and smooth. It might not be a great presentation because of the inconsistent quality of the archival footage but viewers will find this to be an accurate presentation of the material.
The documentary is presented with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. The audio is crisp and clear throughout the film. The dialogue is easy to understand. As with most documentaries, it primarily focuses on replicating the archival audio and the audio from the interviewees. However, Last Days in Vietnam also contains a music score composed by Gary Lionelli.
Though there are technically no supplements on this edition, the release comes with both the original theatrical version (100 min.) and the extended edition aired on the PBS American Experience program (120 min.)
Nominated for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Last Days in Vietnam is a well-made and informative documentary which features an array of interviews and archival footage which showcases and explores the efforts made during the last days of the war to save Vietnamese lives.
This DVD release contains both the award-nominated theatrical version and the extended PBS American Experience broadcast version (which adds twenty minutes to the documentary). This documentary is an important one that should be explored by anyone interested in the history of the Vietnam War.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.