Hearts and Minds (1974)

BBC One

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Documentary Description

Hearts and Minds is a 1974 documentary film about the Vietnam War directed by Peter Davis. The film's title is based on a quote from President Lyndon B. Johnson: "the ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there". The movie was chosen as Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 47th Academy Awards presented in 1975. The film premiered at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. Commercial distribution was delayed in the United States due to legal issues, including a temporary restraining order obtained by one of the interviewees, former National Security Advisor Walt Rostow who had claimed through his attorney that the film was "somewhat misleading" and "not representative" and that he had not been given the opportunity to approve the results of his interview. After Columbia Pictures refused to distribute the picture, Bert Schneider and Henry Jaglom purchased back the rights and released the film in March 1975 through Warner Bros. A planned December 18, 1974 opening in Los Angeles, California was canceled after the production company had been unable to pay the $1 million needed to buy the rights from Columbia Pictures. The film was ultimately played in Los Angeles for the one week it needed to be eligible for consideration in the 1974 Academy Awards. During his acceptance of the Academy Award ceremonies on April 8, 1975, co-producer Bert Schneider said, "It's ironic that we're here at a time just before Vietnam is about to be liberated" and then read a telegram containing "Greetings of Friendship to all American People" from the Viet Cong delegation to the Paris Peace Accords. The telegram thanked the anti-war movement "for all they have done on behalf of peace". Frank Sinatra responded later by reading a letter from Bob Hope, another presenter on the show, "The academy is saying, 'We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening.'"

World Movies, the Australian subscription TV channel, included Hearts and Minds in its 2007 series of 25 Docs You Must See Before You Die. A scene described as one of the film's "most shocking and controversial sequences" shows the funeral of an ARVN soldier and his grieving family, as a sobbing woman is restrained from climbing into the grave after the coffin. The funeral scene is juxtaposed with an interview with General William Westmoreland — commander of American military operations in the Vietnam War at its peak from 1964 to 1968 and United States Army Chief of Staff from 1968 to 1972 — telling a stunned Davis that "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient." After an initial take, Westmoreland indicated that he had expressed himself inaccurately. After a second take ran out of film, the section was reshot for a third time, and it was the third take that was included in the film. Davis later reflected on this interview stating, "As horrified as I was when General Westmoreland said, 'The Oriental doesn’t put the same value on life,' instead of arguing with him, I just wanted to draw him out... I wanted the subjects to be the focus, not me as filmmaker."

The film also includes clips of George Thomas Coker, a United States Navy aviator held by the North Vietnamese as a prisoner of war for 6½ years, including more than two years spent in solitary confinement. One of the film's earliest scenes details a homecoming parade in Coker's honor in his hometown of Linden, New Jersey, where he tells the assembled crowd on the steps of city hall that if the need arose, that they must be ready to send him back to war. Answering a student's question about Vietnam at a school assembly, Coker responds that "If it wasn't for the people, it was very pretty. The people there are very backwards and primitive and they make mess out of everything." In a 2004 article on the film, Desson Thomson of The Washington Post comments on the inclusion of Coker in the film, noting that "When he does use people from the pro-war side, Davis chooses carefully." Time magazine's Stefan Kanfer noted the lack of balance in Coker's portrayal, "An ex-P.O.W.'s return to New Jersey is played against a background of red-white-and-blue-blooded patriots and wide-eyed schoolchildren. The camera, which amply records the agonies of South Vietnamese political prisoners, seems uninterested in the American lieutenant's experience of humiliation and torture." The film also features Vietnam war veteran and anti-war activist Bobby Muller, who later founded the Vietnam Veterans of America. Daniel Ellsberg, who had released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, discusses his initial gung-ho attitude toward the war in Vietnam. The concluding interview features US Vietnam veteran Randy Floyd, stating "We've all tried very hard to escape what we have learned in Vietnam. I think Americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminality that their officials and their policy makers exhibited." The film includes images of Phan Thá»

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