In Country at the New Orleans Film Fest

05:00 October 22, 2014

The 25th Anniversary New Orleans Film Festival, ending this Thursday, Oct.23, has been in full swing all week, drawing record crowds to award-winning films by local and national filmmakers.

 I sat down with San Francisco filmmaker Meghan O’Hara, whose film In Country about Vietnam War re-enactments will screen on Thursday at 6:00pm at the Canal Place Theatre.


Where Y'at: What drew you to document this subject?

Meghan O' Hara: My co-director Mike Attie had already shot some footage, and my first thought was “who is doing this, and why?” My mother’s from that generation, my godfather had served, and it’s the major event in their lives. Also, we were in the midst of the war on terror, but I didn’t feel much connection to it, the public’s not engaged in the way they seemed to be during the Vietnam era.


WYAT: What was your impression of the re-enactments?

MO: They’re extremely elaborate.  They have all the vintage gear and study exactly how they were used, down to details like which side of their belt loops to hang their bottle openers. They’d plan one battle for a whole year. Once the logistics were worked out, both sides would drop into position, and try to ambush the other. One of the conditions to us being allowed to film was that we had to be participants, we had to wear the fatigues, sleep in our wet clothes and boots, etc. They carried real guns with blanks, and when one of those went off it was LOUD, and you’d just hit the deck. We shot for three days like this, but it felt like a month. It did have some of the thrilling and terrifying aspects of war, even though you knew it was fake. But I came out feeling invigorated. It made me realize how important it is in life to have activities that take all of your attention. It could be rock climbing or running, anything that allows you to have a break from all the bs in your head.


WYAT: Who are the participants, and why do they do it?

MO: The age range is broad, from 16 – 65. Some are current military, others are actual Vietnam Vets. I’d say a big part of it is to honor the memories of those who served. It’s like a religious experience for them, the more they suffer, the more they feel they’ve paid tribute to the real soldiers who fought. And it’s true, a lot of veterans who’ve come to screenings seem generally moved. A lot of them came back from the war feeling ashamed. They’d hide the fact that they served, sometimes their kids wouldn’t even know. Another reason is just to re-create that bond that soldiers feel in wartime, that sense of brotherhood.


WYAT: What about the larger moral implications of re-enacting this particular war?

MO: There are a few concerns. First of all, they’re not playing particular soldiers from that time like in Civil War re-enactments, but themselves as they think they would be back then. They even tailor their fashion based on the time period of the battle – if its early 70s they grow out their hair and mustaches. If it’s late 60s, they’ll cut it back. The problem is they’re a group of volunteers, all willing participants, unlike the actual war where many were drafted and didn’t want to be there. But how do you re-enact a group of soldiers who don’t want to fight? Also, America won a lot of battles, but ultimately not the war. This is not shown in the re-enactments, so in a sense they’re re-writing history, and manufacturing a world in which America did not lose. 

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