Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Archive for June 7th, 2012

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

June 7, 2012

Filmmaker Ben Shedd on BRAVO!

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Ken and Betty Rodgers’ feature length documentary BRAVO! is the riveting story of the 77 day siege at Khe Sanh in Vietnam, where Ken was one of the Marines in that battle. BRAVO! combines new interviews with many of Ken’s Marine Khe Sanh colleagues and Vietnam era war stock footage, telling an almost half century old story as if it happened last week.

I’ve watched BRAVO! four times now at different screenings, two of the first screenings for colleagues and people in the film, one at the Veterans Hospital, and one for a university film class. Each time, it’s as if I were joining those men on the battlefield.

This movie is as powerful as the recent Afghanistan on-the-ground war documentary RESTREPO – this one from another war, Vietnam – and I felt just as viscerally involved in the events from decades ago as from just a few years back. The exquisite production work by Cinematographer Mark Spear, BAFTA Award winning Editor/Sound Designer John Nutt and four time Academy Award winning Sound Mixer Mark Berger at Skywalker Ranch slowly sweep me into Khe Sanh and, much like the battles of that place, moving back and forth from quiet tension to startling explosions, into the midst of deathly conflict, into the middle of events we struggle to comprehend.

Ben Shedd (Photo Credit: Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)

BRAVO! flips documentary expectations upside down. The interviews, which would usually accompany footage showing events in a documentary, become the central events of this film. Indeed there is news footage from that long-ago time, but the vivid recollections of these Veterans create a visual landscape so detailed that I find myself wrenched by the life and death of war. I become one of their colleagues in that time and place and come away knowing both the tragedy and day-to-dayness of battle like I have never before imagined.

We hear vividly how the men of Bravo Company live every day today with their ages-old war memories, some having never told their stories before. I’ve read about the effects of post-traumatic stress and in BRAVO! I see and hear it in real time. When 4 or 5 of these men describe in detail an event in their Khe Sanh battles, all from their own memories, as if they were living it right now – not reliving things from decades ago – and all filled with the same details shaped with small variations from their own personal recollections, I feel startled how we – every one of us – must deeply imbed dramatic/traumatic events in our lives and shape our futures from past events, and say little or nothing as we move along in our lives.

I went out the day after I first saw BRAVO! and found myself looking at every single person who crossed my path, wondering and thinking what, like those men of Bravo Company, were people’s life histories, what were their back stories, what have they experienced that make them who they’ve become, and wondering what I and each of us carries with us as we make our way through the world and through our lives.

I’m a professional filmmaker, not a psychiatrist or psychologist, and what I see documented, with everything else in BRAVO!, is post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] in all its facets, in my face, a deep reality to understand and know and deal with.

Last week, I bumped into a VA doctor acquaintance of mine who was at the Veteran’s Hospital screening of BRAVO! and with my simple question asking him about the film, he responded with a shudder that now, two months later, he is still haunted by its visceral impact and clear-eyed view of the people in battle and the lifelong aftermath.

It’s taken me even longer to try to write some of what I felt and am still feeling from experiencing BRAVO! Thank you, men of Bravo Company, for telling us about yourselves. Thank you, my filmmaker friends Ken and Betty Rodgers.

The pacing of BRAVO! is superb, deliberate, delicate, harsh, real, raw, explosive sound vibrating to the core, the memories told like they happened just now, just last week, but in reality 45 years ago. Then is now…

I agree with D. Schwartz in his Cinesource Movie Review: “BRAVO! is an astounding motion picture, made more so by the fact that this is Ken and Betty Rodgers’ first film—one that looks, feels, and sounds as if it were produced by seasoned filmmakers. An instant classic, BRAVO! is a timeless portrayal of this ageless / undying / everlasting / perpetual human activity called war.”

I’ve made two dozen documentaries and screened hundreds of other excellent documentary films, and I put BRAVO! in the top 10 of all documentaries I’ve ever seen. Kudos to the whole production crew. Bravo BRAVO!

Ben Shedd, Academy Award and Peabody Award winning filmmaker and University adjunct faculty www.sheddproductions.com. “Mine is just one voice. I hope you will see BRAVO! and read many other voices telling about the breadth and depth of this movie on BRAVO!TheProject blog.”