One of the most controversial conflicts of our time, the Vietnam War inspired untold numbers of films, songs and books. It also shaped the current face of our nation, as Vietnam: The War that Made Australia tells. Airing in three parts on SBS (April 3, 10, 17) and SBS On Demand, it follows the story of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam – a specialist unit that fought shoulder to shoulder with the Vietnamese army, and became the most decorated unit in our military history.
To commemorate the series, we’ve collected some of the great documentaries made about a deeply complex event…
In the Year of the Pig (1968)
Want to gain a sense of the public mood and response while the war was still in full swing? This Oscar-nominated, black-and-white film riled up protests against the theatres screening it at the time, and it’s not difficult to see why. Looking into the origins of the Vietnam War, director Emile de Antonio combines his personal outrage with a comprehensive array of interviews and visceral footage.
Hearts and Minds (1974)
In 1965, Lyndon B Johnson said, “The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there.” This film seeks to win the hearts and minds of viewers over to the anti-war point of view, and coming out as it did a year before the conflict ended, feelings were running hot on both sides. Michael Moore has said this doco inspired him to become a filmmaker, which should give you some insight into what to expect.
Vietnam in HD (2011)
A six-part series, Vietnam in HD focuses on 13 Americans who were there. They tell their stories, which are spliced with home movies and found footage to provide some fresh tales from the war we all think we know. As the name suggests, it’s a more vibrant view of the era than we are used to imagining – and all the more gripping for that.
Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987)
Featuring actual letters written by American soldiers, this film reveals exactly what was going on in the minds of the people who were there, without any tricks of memory or historical revisionism. It’s a raw and personal experience, as the tone of the letters changes from wonder and adventure to something darker.
All the Way (2011)
Author Paul Ham uses his book Vietnam: The Australian War as the foundation for this doco, which combines contemporary and archival footage to dissect our nation’s role in the conflict. He explores the gritty ground level, with an Australian expert in guerrilla warfare who trained Vietnamese locals, as well as the cost of our political and economic relationship with America.
Vital to understanding the Australian experience of Vietnam, Frontline is the story of news-cameraman Neil Davis, who spent 11 years documenting the horrors of the battlefield with minimal regard for his own safety. Whether he was speaking to young western soldiers about why they were fighting in Asia, or crossing enemy lines to gain an insight into the Viet Cong perspective, Davis was the king of the war correspondents.