More than 30 years after it was made, the documentary "Winter Soldier" is finally getting its big-screen release in the United States. The movie, made by a team of filmmakers, is a stark recording of Vietnam War veterans' accounts of atrocities committed by American soldiers during the war. (See review on Page 28.)
In a hotel conference room in Detroit in early 1971, former soldiers and antiwar activists gathered for what was called the Winter Soldier Investigation, named after a line in a Thomas Paine poem. One of the original financial backers of the WSI and the subsequent film based on it was Jane Fonda, who in 1971 was already known for her role as "Barbarella" but was not yet being called "Hanoi Jane." In an e-mail interview, Fonda talked about what she hopes audiences will take from the film.
"In my book [her memoir, 'My Life So Far'], I call the 'Winter Soldier' chapter 'Redemption,' because I feel that is what the WSI represented for those brave men. They were asking Americans to hear them in their collective truth-telling." Among the soldiers who testified were Scott Camil, Rusty Sachs and future senator John Kerry, all of whom were members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Fonda said "Winter Soldier" shows the psychological impact of the war on service personnel: "Starting with the Vietnam War we began training soldiers differently. In my book I talk about secret meetings I had with military psychologists who were really worried about what was happening to our combat personnel. 'We're turning them into killing machines,' one of them said to me. This began because the military discovered that in World War II and Korea, soldiers weren't killing enough (in their opinion), so they changed training procedures."
However, Fonda insists, "it's critical that we understand that the soldiers are not to blame. How they were trained, how their officers either gave the green light or turned a blind eye to what was happening on the ground is what matters. When you put young people into an atrocity-producing situation where enemy and civilian are commingled, where the 'other side' is dehumanized, we cannot be surprised by what these men report in the film."
Fonda insists, "We have not learned the lessons of Vietnam. The returned veterans tried valiantly to tell us what the lessons were, [but] most of us turned our backs. . . . Today the returning antiwar Iraq vets are being called 'unpatriotic.' We must listen to what they have to say."
"Winter Soldier" is at Landmark's E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. Tickets are $6.75 and $9.50. Call 202-452-7672.
One Week for "Two"
Another war, another continent: Claude Berri's touching 1967 film, "The Two of Us (Le Vieil Homme et L'Enfant)," tells the story of Claude (Alain Cohen), an 8-year-old Jewish boy whose parents send him to live with their friend's parents in the French countryside in 1944. The shy boy eventually develops a close friendship with his elderly caretaker, played by Michel Simon, who won the best actor award at the Berlin Film Festival for his role. The AFI is screening "The Two of Us" in a new 35mm print through Thursday at the AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. Tickets are $6.75 to $9.25. Call 301-495-6720.
-- Christina Talcott