Best Vietnam War documentaries?
March 20, 2014 9:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations on the best documentaries you've seen about the Vietnam War. Not just an overview of what happened, but also a documentary that is emotionally-compelling and preferably gives a balanced view of the war, including the Vietnamese perspective. Thanks!
posted by MrHalfwit to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I've often looked for documentaries that go beyond the heavy metal fetishism of tanks and helicopters, but have never had any luck, and I think one reason is because Vietnam was such a dangerous place at the time that filmmakers couldn't really go in unless they were attached with American military units. And the Vietnamese themselves were never treated very seriously by anybody back then.

While it's not a documentary, The Fall of Saigon by David Butler is one of the best *books* I have read about the war. It's very good, with a lot of humility. Interestingly, many of the incidents he includes in the book can be seen on YouTube in the form of archived and uploaded newscasts from that time. I've read the book two or three times since discovering it just a few years ago. (The Wikipedia Talk Page on the Fall of Saigon is fascinating).

The poet James Fenton was actually in Saigon during the capitulation of the South Vietnamese government, and his accounts are pretty interesting too. Once again, some of the foreign correspondents he mentions (and also mentioned by David Butler) can be found on YouTube.

There's another book whose title I can't quite remember, but it's essentially a collection of Vietnam war reporting, and includes some interviews with North Vietnamese generals and civilians (the reporters had reached Hanoi through the safe corridor from Thailand via Laos I think).

Bao Ninh's Sorrow of War has become required reading in some American high schools I think.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:27 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hearts and Minds is one of the most powerful and disturbing documentaries I've ever seen.
posted by gorbweaver at 10:57 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not exactly an answer to your question, sorry, but, once you've watched all the good docos on the war, have a look at The Fog of War, in which Robert McNamara talks about it and other fascinating topics. It's quite edifying.
posted by mewsic at 11:19 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Vietnam: A Television History is a series totaling about 11 hours, which may be more than you're looking for. It covers political history from long before US involvement, which I found extremely helpful as I've never felt I've grasped the whole picture. I don't think anyone does grasp the whole of a war, but I don't regret a minute of the time I spent watching a series that covers so much.
posted by whoiam at 12:16 AM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you can wait until 2016, Ken Burns will have one you can watch.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 4:19 AM on March 21, 2014

Check out In The Year Of The Pig. It is a 1968 documentary, Oscar nominated and cited by director Emile de Antonio as his personal favorite.
posted by swlabr at 5:30 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

David Halberstam's 1972 book The Best and Brightest is generally considered one of the key resources in this canon.

It's also a very good read.
posted by three blind mice at 6:04 AM on March 21, 2014

If you're including a broad view here, Sir! No Sir! is great, and so is The Weather Underground.
posted by latkes at 6:23 AM on March 21, 2014

Yeah... the documentary Hearts and Minds (1974)... you can read more about it here: wiki
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:04 AM on March 21, 2014

Seconding "Vietnam: A Television History"
posted by Rash at 8:23 AM on March 21, 2014

In the Year of the Pig, referenced above, is the definitive Vietnam War doc, in my opinion. It's very very dense, but highly rewarding.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:05 AM on March 21, 2014

Two Days in October does a great job showing parallels between soldiers and protesters. Fascinating.
posted by BradNelson at 6:27 PM on March 21, 2014

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