HANOVER, NH, July 17, (Agencies): Filmmaker Ken Burns views the Vietnam War as a virus that infected Americans with an array of chronic illnesses — alienation, a lack of civil discourse, mistrust of government and each other. And he hopes his new documentary can be part of a cure.
“What if the film was just an attempt at some sort of vaccination, a little bit more of the disease to get you immune to the disunion that it has sponsored?” Burns said in a recent interview. “It’s important for us to begin to have creative but courageous conversations about what took place.”
Burns and co-director Lynn Novick had just finished work on their World War II documentary a decade ago when he turned to her and said, “We have to do Vietnam.” The result is their 10-part, 18-hour series that will air beginning Sept 17 on PBS.
“For me, it was the sense that Vietnam was the most important event for Americans in the second half of the 20th century, yet we had done almost everything we could in the intervening years to avoid understanding it,” Burns said. “As horrible as they are, wars are incredibly valuable moments to study, and I thought what Vietnam lacked was a willingness to engage in that.”
The film brings together the latest scholarly research on the war and features nearly 80 interviews, including Americans who fought in the war and those who opposed it, Vietnamese civilians and soldiers from both sides. Burns and Novick have been showing excerpts of the film around the country in recent months, most recently at Dartmouth College on Thursday night.
“I think this will be for a general American audience a kind of revelation, a cascade of new facts and new figures, and I don’t mean numeral figures, but biographical figures that will stagger their view of what was, and hopefully get everybody, regardless of political perspective to let go of the baggage of the superficial and the conventional,” Burns said.
Having been blamed for the war itself, many Vietnam War soldiers were understandably reluctant to share their stories, the co-directors said. But compared to his earlier series on World War II and the Civil War, Burns said there was one challenge he didn’t face.
“One of the great tasks for us as filmmakers — amateur historians if you will — was how to cut through all the nostalgia and sentimentality that had attached itself to the Civil War and World War II,” he said. “There’s no such problem with Vietnam.”
After watching the hour-long preview, US Army veteran David Hagerman, of Lyme Center, said he can’t wait to watch the entire series.
“It was powerful,” said Hagerman, who spent his nine months in Vietnam running a treatment center for soldiers addicted to heroin. While strangers now approach him and thank him for his service, he said coming home in 1972 was traumatic.
“I walked into the Seattle airport, and I was in my Army outfit,” he said. “The reception I received was so negative and so powerful that I walked into the nearest men’s room, took my uniform off, threw it in the trash, and put on a T-shirt and a pair of pants.”
Burns said while he doesn’t buy into the notion that history repeats itself, it’s clear that human nature doesn’t change. And he acknowledges that many of the themes his series explores are uncannily relevant to the present.
“If I backed up this conversation and said, ‘OK, I’ve spent the last year working a film about a White House in disarray obsessed with leaks, about a huge document drops into the public of classified information … about a deeply polarized country, about a political campaign accused of reaching out to a foreign power during an election, about mass demonstrations across the country,’ you’d say, ‘Gee, Ken, you stopped doing history, you’re doing the present moment,’” he said.
At Dartmouth, Novick and Burns were joined by US Army veteran Mike Heaney, of Hartland, Vermont, who is shown in the film describing losing fellow platoon members in a 1966 ambush and spending the night paranoid that a dead Viet Cong soldier lying next to him was just faking it and would rise up to kill him.
After the screening, he told the audience about returning to Vietnam in 2008, where he compared war wounds with former enemies turned fellow “grandpas.” He said he’s been able to cope thanks to the support of his family, as well as both Americans and the Vietnamese people.
“I don’t expect to ever get closure on this kind of experience that I had,” he said. “And that’s OK.”
LOS ANGELES: Blake Lively is attached to star in the spy thriller “The Rhythm Section” from director Reed Morano, and “James Bond” producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.
IM Global will finance the film with Wilson and Broccoli producing through their Eon Productions banner, with IM Global co-founder Stuart Ford exec producing along with Greg Shapiro and Mark Burnell.
The movie is a contemporary adaptation of the first of Burnell’s “Stephanie Patrick” British series of four novels. Lively will play the titular heroine, who’s on a path to self-destruction after the death of her family in an airplane crash — a flight that she was meant to be on. After discovering that the crash wasn’t an accident, her anger awakens a new sense of purpose as she becomes an assassin to track down those responsible. Other novels in Burnell’s popular series include “Gemini,” “The Third Woman,” and “Chameleon.”
“We are thrilled to be bringing Mark Burnell’s ‘The Rhythm Section’ to the big screen with our partners at IM Global,” Broccoli and Wilson said. “It is exciting for us to be working with the immensely talented team of director Reed Morano and actress who have a strong vision for this very compelling story driven by a female protagonist.”
Morano received critical acclaim for helming several episodes of the hit Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“In Stephanie Patrick, Mark has created a unique female heroine who turns so many of the current cinematic cliches surrounding so-called ‘kick-ass’ female leads on their head,” Ford said. “To be bringing such a fresh, realistic, and bold international thriller to the big screen with EON Productions, Reed, and Blake is an exciting proposition for us all at IM Global.”
The film will begin production this fall and will likely shoot in the US, the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland.
Lively most recently starred in “The Shallows” and will appear next in “All I See Is You” opposite Jason Clarke.