“Look, they’re focusing on us now. First they bomb as much as they please, then they film.” Responding to the camera following him across a broken, muddy plot of land where the remains of a home lean into the rain, a Vietnamese villager disdains the effort to document his loss. Among the many self-aware moments in Peter Davis’ Hearts and Minds, this one is particularly tragic. There is no distinguishing between invasions for him, as he remains resilient and proud, as a neighbor leans down to pick up debris in the background. The camera pans with his movement to find another man, who stares directly into the lens as he puts a cigarette to his lips. Affronted perpetually, all they can do is watch those who watch them.
Screening on 7 April at the DocYard, where it will be followed by a Q&A with Davis and Erin Trahan, film journalist and editor of the Independent, the documentary remains resonant more than 40 years after its release. If the film is notorious now for the tumult during the 1975 Academy Awards ceremony, during which Davis noted the “fall” of Saigon in his acceptance speech and Frank Sinatra later read a letter “from the Academy,” stating, “We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening,” it also reveals—still and always—the effects of war on its many victims. Structured as a series of juxtapositions, between veterans, observers, administration officials, and, so very painfully, Vietnamese villagers, the makes a trenchant argument against US imperialism, arrogance, and ongoing self-interest.
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