Eat the Document
Better cooked than Beauchamp's film--more thoughtfully put together, but still a document more than a documentary--is the indispensable and historic Winter Soldier, which is being re-released after going virtually unseen for many years. Shot and edited on a patched-up budget by the Winterfilm Collective, a volunteer group of eighteen independent, New York-based filmmakers, this 1972 feature is the only audiovisual record of the Winter Soldier Investigation: three days of eyewitness and confessional testimony about US atrocities in Vietnam, organized in early 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
You will recall that during the 2004 electoral campaign, John Kerry's enemies made much of his participation in this event, which they described as fraudulent. Although Kerry, when questioned, replied quietly that the veterans' accounts had proved to be true, it was easy enough for his opponents to make the lie stick. Many writers and camera crews had attended the conference, held in Detroit at a Howard Johnson's motel; but the major news organizations chose not to report the evidence that was presented, nor did any national broadcaster subsequently agree to show Winter Soldier. Apart from a brief flurry of screenings in Manhattan, at Cinema 2 and the Whitney Museum, and an airing on New York's PBS affiliate, Winter Soldier and its testimony were effectively buried.
I don't imagine the picture would have changed the outcome of the election, had it re-emerged a year ago instead of now. But I believe most people know the face of truth when they see it, and that good filmmakers can show that face--so it's too bad that voters in 2004 didn't have a chance to see Rusty Sachs, Scott Camil, Kenneth Campbell and all the others, including (very briefly, in a backup role) John Kerry. It's not just that people would have recognized through them the awful, unchallengeable reality of crimes committed against innumerable civilians--committed as standard operating procedure, as the witnesses emphasized, and recalled here in sometimes sickening detail. Just as important, Americans would have heard the grief in the veterans' voices and seen their tears, which these men for so long had thought must not be shed.
Winter Soldier is the first release of Milliarium Zero, a company honorably established by Milestone Films to distribute works of "strong political and social content." In New York, the picture may be seen at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, where it is part of a weeklong tribute to Milestone Films, August 12-18.