Free Film Screening: Vietnam War Documentaries

Helicopter in Vietnam

Vietnam 1965, courtesy National Archives

On Sunday, May 2 at 2 p.m., two Vietnam War-era documentaries will be shown at the Everett Public Library Main Library auditorium as part of The Big Read program featuring The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s fictional account of the Vietnam War. These films and their creation and distribution are a part, perhaps less well known, of the story of United States involvement in Vietnam.

 Night of the Dragon, released in 1966, and Vietnam! Vietnam!, completed in 1968 and released in 1971, were produced and distributed by the United States Information Agency.

USIA was an independent agency within the executive branch of the federal government that existed from 1953 to 1999. Part of the mission of USIA was to explain and support American foreign policy and promote U.S. national interests through overseas information programs. These two films, narrated by Charlton Heston, were part of a USIA attempt to explain and justify U.S. involvement in Vietnam to the rest of the world.

Neither of these films could be shown in the United States at the time they were released. Until 1990, federal law prohibited films produced by the USIA to be shown in the United States unless a special exemption was made by Congress for a particular film. Congress was reluctant to have USIA information efforts directed at American citizens.

USIA distributed its films to foreign cinemas and world leaders, and showed them in USIA libraries around the world. While Night of the Dragon was shown widely abroad, Vietnam! Vietnam! was given very little exposure. By the time it was ready for distribution in 1971, U.S. foreign policy and the military and political situation had changed and the film was not considered helpful.

A word of warning about these films – there are some graphic scenes in each that may be considered disturbing – this screening is meant for adult audiences.