Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

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Doc Soup: Two More Films for Veteran’s Day

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Having given a good think to Veteran’s Day and the film Hearts and Minds, I came across two other veteran-related films, one old and one new, that I think are worth tracking down.

First, the new: Dan Cogan, from Impact Partners, whom I interviewed several weeks ago, tells me that Impact’s How to Fold a Flag, a film that’s on the festival circuit at the moment, is a powerful depiction of Iraq War veterans — and that the filmmakers were very much inspired by Hearts and Minds. In this new film, directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, who made Gunner Palace, catch up with a subject of their earlier film, along with three other vets. (How to Fold a Flag was recently at the Toronto International Film Festival. See the film’s description from the TIFF website.)

Still from How to Fold a Flag

Still from How to Fold a Flag by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein.


And then there’s the old: I read about a doc called Pietro, which was shot during a U.S. assault on the town of San Pietro in WW II. Directed by John Huston, it was considered to be too brutal and defeatist to show to the public at the time, so its release was held up. But today, you can actually see the film in parts on YouTube.

I’d recommend if for several reasons. For one, it’s easy for many of us younger folk (I’m generously counting everyone born after 1945 in that bunch) to forget the brutality of WWII, or at least forget its reality by having images of Saving Private Ryan clog up our brains. Films like Hearts and Minds have seared the image of disturbed American soldiers in our minds, but to see Americans from that earlier war looking scared and dying is quite striking. Another reason to see the film is simply to marvel at the way Huston shot the footage — he’s the guy who made The Misfits, The Red Badge of Courage and The Maltese Falcon, among so many others. I’d like to look into how his nonfiction filmmaking impacted the way he shot features. I’ll try to get deeper into that (for Huston and for other filmmakers) in a future post.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Steve Gorelick

    FOREIGNID: 21321
    Love your blog posts. And being of prime Viet Nam draft age, this one really hit home. The other film that had an incredible impact at the time, that woke up and mobilized countless people, was Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig (1968).
    Because though, I only saw it way back when (before my first class in doc film with Ed Brokaw at UCLA) I can’t say I remember how good it was (form, content, narrative, etc.). It did, though, quickly get a bunch of us moving in opposition to the war.
    I saw Antonio’s Point of Order recently, though, and Year of the Pig must have been superb. In fact, my most vivid memory of the Viet Nam years might be the night I was in an enormous crowd at USC film school watching “Pig.” The electricity, the fear, the anger was unforgettable.
    Now, Ill share something that might sound like a stretch, but I remember it. In 1969, Salesman was screened for the first time at UCLA film school. I distinctly remember how, in a strange way, many of us felt that it had an anti-war feel to it.
    Hard to put in words, but the zeitgeist at the time definitely included a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, a feeling
    that — especially for those of us who were about to be drafted and who had lost friends who were older and had gone before us — we were trudging slowly through the snow like Rabbit toward an inevitable tragic end.
    So many of us felt trapped, opposing the war but not willing or able or gutsy enough to go to Canada. Like cogs.
    That’s part of the reason why Salesman really nuked us when we first saw it.
    It remains my all-time favorite.
    Great blog. Keep up the good work.

  • Dan Cogan

    FOREIGNID: 21341
    Another thing about HOW TO FOLD A FLAG: It’s the closing night film of Stranger Than Fiction at the IFC Center on Dec.1.

  • Michael Tucker

    FOREIGNID: 22069
    Hearts and Minds succeeds because the film is as much about America as it is about the war in Vietnam. That was the guiding light while shooting How to Fold a Flag: to capture a country at war.
    Michael Tucker