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Ansel Elgort, left, and Shailene Woodley appear in a scene from ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ which hit the theatres in the US on June 6. (AP)
Director Kennedy’s documentary an eye-opener ‘Last Days’ screens to Iraq echoes

LOS ANGELES, June 14, (RTRS): “Last Days in Vietnam” may be a film about events that happened nearly 40 years ago, but it was also one of the timeliest movies to show on Thursday’s first full day of screenings at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Director Rory Kennedy’s documentary is an eye-opening and unexpectedly moving chronicle of the chaotic evacuation of Americans and friendly Vietnamese from the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon as North Vietnamese troops prepared to take the city in April 1975. And it screened at LAFF on a day when three planeloads of Americans were being airlifted out of a Baghdad suburb as Sunni insurgents continued to take territory in northern Iraq, where US troops once fought.

While direct comparisons are problematic, the idea that Americans were being airlifted out of an area recently vacated by US troops found unavoidable resonance with both the left and right.
Filmmaker and activist Michael Moore, for instance, offered two tweets on Thursday, both of which came just as “Last Days in Vietnam” was screening at LAFF:
“Breaking: Americans rapidly being evacuated as insurgents move on Saigon. Oops, sorry — Baghdad. #summerrerun,” Michael Moore followed by, “How many days till we c Blackhawks on top our Billion-dollar Iraq embassy hurriedly cramming in as many as possible to fly the F outta there?

And at the conservative National Review Online, Jay Nordlinger headlined a piece “Vietnam, Again, and Again,” and concluded, “Today, Iraq, tomorrow, Afghanistan. Our sacrifices — like those in Vietnam — will have been in vain, I’m afraid.” “I see absolute similarities between Iraq and Vietnam,” Rory Kennedy told TheWrap on Friday. “Like Vietnam, you don’t have the ground troops there anymore, the insurgents are coming in and there’s not a lot of resistance.

“In Vietnam, when they got to this point, there were very few options available, and this country didn’t have the political will to go back into the war,” added Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and a filmmaker whose work includes “A Boy’s Life,” the Emmy-winning “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” and the Emmy-nominated and Oscar-shortlisted “Ethel.” Kennedy didn’t begin to make “Last Days in Vietnam” because of any current resonance — instead, she said, she initially resisted the idea of making a doc about a subject she thought had been thoroughly covered.

“I thought that I knew a lot about it, but really I just knew the skeleton of the story,” she said. “We’re familiar with the iconic image of the helicopter on top of what people thought was the Embassy [at top]. But I found that very few people understood what it was like at the time, and why and how it fell so quickly. I found it fascinating, and I think that 40 years later we have a chance to unpack it and learn from it.” The real lesson, she added, is one that was not learned in Iraq. “Really, the question is, when you get into a war, what is the exit strategy?” she said. “That’s when you actually have options, and can think it through in a constructive manner. When you get to this end point, it’s very hard.

“If you don’t do anything, the insurgents take over and can potentially spread through the region. But if you go back in there with a strong military force, then what? If we stop this insurgency and withdraw again, who’s to say there’s not going to be another? What will stop them from coming again?”
Kennedy, a member of one of the most prominent Democratic families of the last century, said the blame for the Iraq problem lies squarely with the administration in power when the US invaded the country in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“The question 12 years ago for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was, What is the exit strategy here?’” she said. “And they refused to answer. That is irresponsible leadership. That’s the problem, and the tragedy of it all.”
Kennedy’s film is about a debacle marked with acts of kindness — about the lengths to which some soldiers and embassy workers went to get the Americans’ Vietnamese family, friends and collaborators out of a country where they’d be facing imprisonment or death.
The evacuation of Saigon, former US Army Capt Stuart Harrington said at the screening, was “Vietnam in a microcosm: promises made in good faith, promises broken, people being hurt because we didn’t get our act together ... ”

He added, “In times of terrible, terrible tragedy, when policy has failed and the military has failed, what else is there? People all over the city of Saigon did something.”
Harrington helped organize an unsanctioned, “black-ops” evacuation effort, in part because the US ambassador stubbornly refused to plan for or even consider the possibility that the city would fall to the North Vietnamese. He is one of the heroes of “Last Days in Vietnam” — people, said Kennedy, who could not have gotten their due amid the politically-charged wreckage of Vietnam.
“In the immediate aftermath of the war,” she said, “there was no opportunity in our country to have heroes.”
“Last Days in Vietnam” will receive a theatrical release in September and will air on PBS’s “American Experience” next April.

Nathan Silver (the filmmaker, not statistician-media wunderkind) makes most other writer/directors seem downright lazy. He began making short films shortly after graduating college in 2005, and after a brief (seriously, three months) stay in grad school, he decided to go all-in with his cinematic ambition.
He didn’t wait for permission or much funding, either; his first feature-length film (after three shorts), “The Blind,” came out in 2009. His next, “Exit Elena,” really got him noticed upon its 2012 release, thanks to the acclaim he received for his very loose, improvisational techniques and lo-fi methods.
His most distinct quality as a director, though, is his willingness to cast his mom. First, she appeared in “Exit Elena,” and now she has a major role in his latest film, “Uncertain Terms,” playing a woman who runs a home for wayward pregnant girls.

“I just always loved the way she told stories, she brings in a million ideas and never really gets to a point but somehow gets to appoint through all these non-sequiturs and I also love her sense of humor,” Silver said, though he soon highlighted a few complications that arise when bossing around your mother.
“It becomes a family affair when you direct your mother,” he added, laughing. “You fight with her like you would with your mother, not like another actor. Shes a very reluctant actor, she doesn’t like doing multiple takes, and you have to explain to her why, but in the end she always gets to that point. She does one take and she’s great and I’ll say we’re gonna do another angle and we’ll fight about it and I have to get her to the point where she can act with a clear head.”

Silver doesn’t have much time to bask in the premiere of his film, tomorrow at the LA Film Festival, as he’s going into production this summer on his next project, “Stinking Heaven,” about a commune for recovering drug addicts that is rocked by a young woman, played by Deragh Campbell, who is having a breakdown.
“As soon as I started working on the characters with Keith Poulson and Deragh, we started talking about the commune, and I just started thinking about the early ’90s, when I had this terrible sense of anxiety and I don’t know what caused it, I started feeling it again, and I said I need to set it i that period because the same thing happened again,” Silver explained. “I started watching documentaries from the late ’80s and all the characters feel doomed and the way the video looks it feels like it was the end of it and I wanted to make a movie that has characters that it feels like the last legs of the commune they put together.”
The film will shoot in Passaic, New Jersey.

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