Documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick decided to make a film about the Vietnam War a decade ago. But they felt they had to wait to tackle this most divisive and controversial piece of history.
“We’ve been talking about Vietnam for a long time but always thought it was too recent, believe it or not,” Novick said in an interview this summer during a visit to the Aspen Institute. “Even 10 years ago, it felt too recent to have enough perspective and distance.”
She believes that the country is finally prepared to heal from and reckon with the war. She hopes that the 10-part “The Vietnam War,” co-directed by Burns and Novick and opening Sunday night on PBS stations nationwide, will help the nation finally come to terms with the tragic conflict. Every Ken Burns film release is a major cultural event, but this one, the filmmakers hope, might also be a turning point for America’s grappling with the traumatic legacy of Vietnam.
“It’s a festering wound that we’ve avoided dealing with,” Novick said. “And we avoid talking about it, except for shouting in the most reductive way. So in order to move forward as a country we have to understand what happened, why it’s so painful and why we can’t talk about it. The project of making a film about a subject as complex and tragic as this was certainly daunting and overwhelming, but we felt like we could shed some light.”
They set out to make an immersive film that is at once encyclopedic and personal, relying on troves of archival footage and declassified documents but also the personal recollections of veterans — American and Vietnamese — along with anti-war protesters, reporters, government officials and most anyone…
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