Vietnam War Film Festival:
Carnegie Mellon?s annual film festival weekend always attempts to focus on film genres and themes that are unique and unusual, films that college students normally are not exposed to. The film festival is also an opportunity for students to get involved: the weekend is organized completely by a film festival class which allows students to meet influential filmmakers and learn more about what they are showing.
This year?s festival, Tour of Duty, takes place from April 1 to April 4. It revolves around a controversial subject that is becoming more and more popular in films: the Vietnam War.
?Vietnam is still a hotly contested piece of history,? said professor Eugene Smith, the faculty moderator for this year?s festival. Smith, a member of the history department faculty and self-proclaimed ?child of the sixties,? tries to focus his courses on that period in history and also teaches a class titled ?Vietnam: America?s Lost War? which focuses on how the conflict influenced American culture.
?I like to concentrate on how it affected average people,? he said.
Smith was chosen by the department head, Joseph Trotter, to moderate this year?s film festival class. The class is available under the history, English, and modern language departments every spring semester.
?It seemed like a good choice, since it [the Vietnam War] is a fairly extensive film subject,? said Smith. ?I also feel it has to do with our current geopolitical conflicts; there are definitely some parallels.?
?This is entirely a student-run event,? said Smith. ?I had very little to do with it.? Students were responsible not only for the selection of the films, but also for publicity and design. From the first week of class, students were divided into ?committees? to manage different aspects of the festival.
Katie Dahl, a junior English major, helped to create advertisements in Pittsburgh papers such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Tribune-Review, City Paper, and Pulp.
?I signed up for the class because I?d taken a number of Gene Smith?s classes previously,? said Dahl. ?When he told me about this class last fall, I was very interested, both in the topic and because it seemed like an interesting opportunity to experience event preparation in the real world.? In addition to learning more about the films and gaining work experience, Dahl appreciated the group dynamic; something she claims is rare in most classes.
?I?ve really enjoyed the experience so far. It?s nice to have a break from regular class work, and I think the committee work has been good for everyone. A lot of projects you do in college don?t require a whole lot of cooperation with your peers, but when you?re doing something as big as a film festival, everyone has to be working together.?
The film class chose a wide variety of films that showed multiple points of view on the conflict. Many of the films are considered classics today, such as Stanley Kubrick?s Full Metal Jacket, Oliver Stone?s Platoon, and Francis Ford Coppola?s Apocalypse Now. The students also chose films such as Born on the Fourth of July, Good Morning Vietnam, We Were Soldiers, The Quiet American, and Heaven and Earth, a film based on the true experiences of Le Ly Hyslip, a Vietnamese woman who served as a spy in the Viet Cong before marrying an American serviceman.
There will also be several documentaries including We Regret to Inform, which tells the story of Vietnam?s widows, The Bloods of ?Nam, a film that interviews African-American veterans, and Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam.
In addition to the film screenings, Hyslip and Barbara Sonneborn, the director of We Regret to Inform, will be present on April 1 and 2 for interviews. There will also be a speaker panel of local Vietnam veterans, a color guard in honor of those who died in the conflict, and a special presentation courtesy of the Vietnamese Embassy.
Jeff Hinkleman, manager of the video library in Hunt Library, was in charge of procuring films from their distributors and also participated in the selection process. ?This topic lends itself a little more to larger audiences,? he said. ?It wasn?t particularly hard to get these films, as most of them were large enough that they came from a centralized supplier to colleges. I?m looking forward most to the documentaries about Vietnam after the war.?
As for student participation, ?You get out of something what you put into it. I think this will really engage the student body.?
In order to raise awareness of the festival, there will be a publicity event outside of Doherty Hall next Wednesday. Festival committee members will be shaving any willing student?s head in exchange for a set of Tour of Duty dog tags, which will serve as a pass to all of the weekend?s events. ?It?s a kind of reenactment of the initiation scene from Full Metal Jacket; we provide the music and the barber, you provide the hair,? said Dahl. ?We?ll have posters and schedules out for passersby. Hopefully, that?ll attract some attention.?
Students and faculty alike are looking forward to a good turnout. ?We?ve publicized this at the Pitt, Duquesne, and Chatham campuses,? said Smith. ?I?m very proud of all my students and the work they put into making sure this came together.?
?The festival always has a good turnout,? said Hinkleman, ?but I think this one will be a little more popular. I hope the smaller films get as much attention as the larger ones.?
Dahl agreed. ?People seem to be excited about some of the big-name movies, and we?re hoping the documentaries will interest people too. We?re also hoping to draw people from outside the campus community, but it?s hard to predict how well our publicity is getting to them. If you really want to get involved, shave your head on Wednesday. Otherwise, come see the movies and hear the speakers.?
Smith hopes that students who attend will walk away with a better understanding of the Vietnam War and the people who participated in it.
?People should look at the past,? he said, ?and see if there are any lessons for the future.?
Tour of Duty, Carnegie Mellon?s 2004 Film Festival, will be held from Thursday, April 1 to Sunday, April 4. Admission is $1 with a student ID, $2 without. For more information, go to http://www.cmu.edu/filmfestival or e-mail the film festival committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.