Robyn Malcolm is the well-known Kiwi, and Vietnam is the far-flung place in this full-length Intrepid Journey. Writes Malcolm in her diary: "I expect to be enchanted, challenged and scared several times a day." If drinking snake wine, taking a pee in a corn field and witnessing the ceremonial sacrifice of a pig fits the bill, her expectations are fulfilled. Although some of the homestays are lacking in mod cons, Malcolm is glad for the experience. She also talks to Jimmy Pham, who runs the Koto cafe which trains street kids, visits the DMZ, and falls in love with the ex port town of Hoi An.
Vietnam veteran Frank Metcalfe revisits the country he served in 35 years before as a young officer, and recollects war stories, including an incident of friendly fire. This time accompanied by his son, soldier-turned-producer Matthew Metcalfe, he is gladdened by how vibrant Vietnam has become. "I look at this place, and I can't help but think what on earth were we doing." Father and son are saddened no memorial exists for Kiwis who fought in Vietnam. In 2008 the Government formally acknowledged the Vietnam service of New Zealand forces personnel.
Between 1964-1972, 4,000 young New Zealanders volunteered for service in Vietnam. Itching to get out into the world and do something exciting, the thrills were soon replaced by the grim reality of war. Things deteriorated further when they returned home to face an angry public; they were told to get out of their uniform quickly and not to tell anyone where they had been. This documentary gives the soldiers a chance to tell their stories for the first time. Interspersed with the interviews are 8mm film clips and selected official war footage.
Like many young New Zealand males during the late 1960s, Wayne Chester joined the army and headed overseas to fight in Vietnam. As a machine gunner he patrolled the jungles outside of Saigon and saw combat, facing the Viet Cong on several occasions. He recounts his experiences in the jungle, along with some close encounters with wildlife, and the altercations and laughs shared with the American contingent. He also discusses his admiration for the Vietnamese people and the Viet Cong, and the long-term physical and political effects of agent orange.
After a long flight in a C-130 Hercules, Dez Harrison arrived in Vietnam on the fifth of May 1967. As he puts it, when you’re young and green it’s all an adventure. Serving in 161 Field battery, Harrison says he was blessed with good leadership from non-commissioned officers who were mainly veterans of Korea and Malaya. As the memories rattle off, he has plenty of praise for the Americans in Vietnam, but less so for his Australian comrades. Stories of leave in Saigon and Singapore provide fond memories, but the reception back in New Zealand at the end of his service is less happy.
Using plenty of his own photographs to illustrate his story, Errol Schroder takes us back to the 50s, 60s and 70s to provide his memories of being a photographer with the New Zealand Air Force (Schroder also spent three years in the navy). His Air Force career saw him posted through the Pacific and South East Asia. In Vietnam, there are tales of nervous times on American bases, and a hair-raising patrol in an OV-10 Bronco aircraft. Even in retirement, action came Errol’s way — his home was wrecked in the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake.
Stoney Burke reckons aviation fuel just about runs in his veins; fascinated by aircraft since childhood, joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force felt like a logical choice. Burke's long career as an engineer both on the ground and in the air included helping get supplies to Nepal for Sir Edmund Hillary’s school building projects, plus service in the Vietnam War. Flying into Saigon and some of the forward air bases in Vietnam could prove tricky, with planes taking small arms fire on their approach. Post Air Force, Stoney continued his career at Air New Zealand.
This short documentary follows refugee Mitchell Pham from a Vietnam War prison camp to a new home in New Zealand. Director Sally Tran — a 2013 Killer Films Internship Scholarship recipient — uses an interview with Pham as an adult, and live action mixed with animation to recreate the harrowing childhood journey. DIY more than CGI, the animation process was based on Vietnamese folded paper-craft. Requiring 20 volunteers, the 10,000 animated pieces of paper (and a rich score from The Sound Room) provide suggestive weight to Pham’s story of survival and courage.
The subject of this interview is Greg Rodgers, a Flight Sergeant in the RNZAF in Vietnam and Malaya. Rodgers joined the air force after college, and trained as a mechanic. He talks about the bond between ground crew and pilots, and the responsibility of having a pilot’s life in his hands at age 18. Rodgers also mentions off-duty good times (including jumping from choppers into the sea, before being wet-winched up again) and reflects on bad times after returning to civilian life: official neglect ("there was no support"), and the shock of leaving his Air Force "family".
Actor Wi Kuki Kaa (1938 - 2006) plays Tiare, a Vietnam War veteran who is dislocated by his experiences of war, and homelessness. He wanders the city streets, collecting ephemera in plastic bags. Nancy Brunning plays his daughter, who, with her own daughter, visits their reluctant koro (old man) to convince him to visit his ancestral home. The result is a moving story about a man jolted to find his turangawaewae (place to stand), and the whanau that helps him get there. Directed by Peter Burger, the film was selected for Critics' Week at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.