The year is 1967 and the war in Vietnam continues to rage, with the involvement of the United States of America regarded as the main fuel for the conflict which has pitted the Communist forces of the North Vietnamese against their ideological opposites in the South. America believes if the North wins, this will create a domino effect and the whole of East Asia may become Communist, which they would see as a political disaster, not only for the region but for the world. This film has been created as an act of support for the Anti-American contingent, assembled from a collection of largely French directors to express their feelings about the war and the reality of its effects...
You just had to turn on your television each night to the news bulletin in the late sixties and early seventies to get an update on what was happening in Vietnam at that time, and it was often described as the first televised war. The images of soldiers on both sides, and more appallingly civilians caught in the crossfire, being injured or killed struck home to everyone across the globe who witnessed them what sheer Hell was happening in the country, and it had two effects: either it galvanised those who thought sending more American troops and hardware over there would secure a victory and stop the conflict, or it galvanised those who believed the exact opposite of that.
With a number of directors the controversial Far from Vietnam was not going to be the most exacting of documentaries, but looking back knowing what we do now, it was instructive to see the world just at the brink of the explosion of protests across many nations as the idea of getting out there and making your voice heard became a vital one, and provoked, well, riots in many cities to be frank. We see this and wonder how much they actually changed society in the way the organisers and participants intended, and let's not forget not every protest march was one which supported the end of the Vietnam War, there were plenty which supported its continuation and destruction of Communism.
Watching the footage of the protests here is uncomfortably fascinating, as the anti brigade try to put across their deeply emotional reasons for not wanting their friends and family, not to mention themselves, from being sent to die in East Asia, and the pro equivalents yell "Bomb Hanoi!" at them, simply illustrating that if the protestors against the war were idealistic, the protestors for it were hopelessly naïve and had no grasp of what they were advocating. Most of these sequences were left for the last act of the documentary where they had the most impact, curiously not so much the scenes of the war itself, which were liberally peppered through whatever narrative this could be claimed to have had (assembled by Chris Marker) yet somehow rarely became the absolute focus.
There were variations on the theme, certainly, as Jean-Luc Godard presented what would now be termed a video essay on the subject, explaining he was such a celebrity insurgent that he was banned from all of the countries that he could have made a segment about. Alain Resnais on the other hand, turned to drama and portrayed Bernard Fresson as a journalist telling a silent woman of his feelings about America, making the point that thanks to the Second World War, America was seen as the planet's good guys, something that had been totally wiped away by the Vietnam War, and arguably, something that country still struggles with to this day. With a diversion to speak to a widow of a Quaker protestor who immolated himself outside the Pentagon - her matter of fact-ness about bringing up their three children alone was quietly chilling - and shots of American weaponry in abundance, of course this was a snapshot of a very particular time in the sixties, one you could possibly pinpoint to the precise month, Far from Vietnam was living history.