What’s this?!?! A documentary film being remastered and restored and re-released to theaters like it were a regular….classic film? Okay, so maybe this is not the first time, but it seems that Hearts and Minds, the 1974 Academy Award-winning doc about the Vietnam War, certainly got the royal treatment for its re-release to theaters on Friday, March 20, at the Cinema Village theater in New York City (with a national rollout to follow). You can watch the trailer on the Rainbow Releasing website.
Now, as excited as I am about this, I have to confess that I never saw the film. I had always heard about it, but just never got it together. Well, this new version will get me going — I promise to watch it within a week and provide commentary in the comments section below — but for now, here’s a short interview I did with Hearts and Minds director Peter Davis.
Can you describe the restoration process? How is the film going to be different?
The restoration of Hearts and Minds was done by Mike Pogorzelski, the chief archivist for the Motion Picture Academy. They used their own lab and went over the film literally frame by frame. What they came up with is more than a restoration in my view; I’d call it a rejuvenation. The picture actually looks better, fresher with more articulation than it did when we first completed the film in 1974. The sound has also been refreshed in a way that makes it sharper, more legible in a way that’s rare in documentaries. God knows how much they spent on this process, but it took two years.
Can you tell me about what relevance the film has to today’s geo-political situation?
Since we flew into the Iraq War on the wings of lies, since we misunderstood the history, religion and culture of Iraq and Afghanistan just as we did in Vietnam, there is unfortunately more relevance than I would like. Every U.S. president since the 1970s has been haunted by Vietnam. I covered the war in Iraq myself for The Nation magazine, and while differences in the wars are striking, the correspondences are depressing. This is hardly lost on the Iraqis themselves. One of the principal thoroughfares in the vast Sadr City slum of Baghdad has been renamed Vietnam Street. They get it. As for our other current war, Afghans over the centuries have dug the graves not only of foreign soldiers but even of empires. A recent cover of Newsweek magazine says this so succinctly: “Obama’s Vietnam — How to Salvage Afghanistan.” What I hope Hearts and Minds may possibly do for a new audience is to lay out for them historically and remind them emotionally that war is the story of killing and dying, of being damaged in other ways as well — in wounds both physical and psychological, in horrendous economic costs, in losing our way as a nation — and that history is a lesson we keep flunking when we make war against people who have neither attacked us nor pose any threat to our security.
Is there any other precedent of a documentary being remastered and rereleased to theaters like this?
I’m sure there is — from Nanook of the North to Woodstock and beyond — but I can’t tell you which films have had this treatment, either from the Motion Picture Academy or other restorers.
Who originally had the idea to make this re-release happen?
Henry Jaglom‘s Rainbow Pictures Corporation has the copyright on Hearts and Minds and had the idea to re-release it now. I’ve always been grateful to Henry and his earlier partner, Zack Norman, for prying Hearts and Minds loose from Columbia Pictures, which paid for the film but refused to release it. Henry and Zack raised the money in 1974 to buy Hearts and Minds from Columbia and turn it over to Warner Brothers, which did release the film enthusiastically at the end of 1974. Of course, I’m eternally thankful to Bert Schneider, the most inspired and inspiring producer any filmmaker could ever want. But he and I were both stymied in 1974 in our hopes for a Columbia release. Henry and Zack rode to the rescue like the cavalry in a John Ford western.
Have you seen Hearts and Minds? Let us know what you thought by leaving a comment below.