“There’s a lot of lessons we can learn from this story,” says director Rory Kennedy about her Oscar-nominated documentary “Last Days in Vietnam.” The film chronicles the chaotic final week of the war in Vietnam, and the last-ditch efforts of American soldiers and diplomats to evacuate as many South Vietnamese citizens as possible despite White House orders demanding they save only themselves.
In an exclusive video chat with Gold Derby (watch below), Kennedy adds, “This was 40 years ago – April 29th, 1975 – but there are many echoes of what’s happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan, our engagements there, with ISIS, and I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned about what happened forty years ago and how to NOT get out of a war.”
Kennedy elaborates on the dramatic details of the story: “What our film shows is how these heroic Americans and South Vietnamese went against U.S. policy, risked their live arguably, to save as many South Vietnamese as possible. It’s a great story and an important story, I think, because in this moment, one of the worst moments at least in the last 100 years of American history in terms of U.S. policy – it was a real abandonment of the U.S. towards the Vietnamese who were left behind – it shows these men on the ground who did the right thing, and they risked their lives. They really did what they could to get as many Vietnamese out as possible.”
Kennedy interviewed a wide variety of subjects for the film, many of whom were present during the events portrayed, and according to the director, “this was a very difficult time, a very tumultuous time, particularly for people who were on the front lines. I think it’s very hard for them to revisit this: many of the people I talked to told me it would take them three or four days – if not longer – just to recover from the interview. It was a lot to ask of people. One of the bigger challenges was finding the Vietnamese voices, which was very, very important to me, to understand what was at stake, what it meant to be left behind. We ultimately, I think, interviewed some truly extraordinary people whose stories are really at the heart of our film.”
In addition to the interviews, Kennedy employs an astonishing array of archival footage to tell her story. “To help people really transport themselves to Saigon forty years ago, and to tell that part of the story in a visual manner, was certainly a big challenge. But we got lucky with that: we ultimately have a lot of footage in there that’s never been seen before and is extraordinarily dramatic.”
Kennedy won an Emmy for her Nonfiction Special “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” (2007), and received her first Oscar nomination for this film. She’s currently ranked in fourth place with odds of 50/1, in a category that has so far been dominated by “CitizenFour” (odds of 2/11). Check out our full interview below for more on the making of the film.