The highly anticipated preview of clips from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's "The Vietnam War" on Monday, May 15, 2017 at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, brought stakeholders from the UCI campus and the Orange County Vietnamese American community together to revisit a contentious and divisive historical period.
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have worked on this 10-episode, 18-hour documentary series for the last decade, immersing themselves in research and drawing on recently declassified records. The docu-series explores multiple angles and perspectives on a lengthy war that divided the American public, displaced millions of Southeast Asians from their homeland, and devastated the people and land in Vietnam and neighboring Laos and Cambodia. Different from previous Vietnam War documentaries and features, this project explores this history from the bottom up, top down and all other possible angles. It is set to air on PBS beginning on September 17.
Aside from previewing the clips, the evening included a discussion with the filmmakers. Prior to "The Vietnam War", Ken and Lynn have worked together on a number of projects, including "Prohibition", "The Tenth Inning", and "The War". The panel of speakers also included Duong Van Mai Elliott, a narrator in "The Vietnam War" as well as the author of "The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family". Mai appears throughout the docu-series as a historical figure who worked as a translator and interviewer for the RAND Corporation during the Vietnam War and in the current moment as a researcher who has spent a significant part of her career writing about the war and its consequences. Moderated by Thuy Vo Dang, Ph.D., Archivist for the Southeast Asian Archive, the panelists were asked to address how the docu-series might engage postwar generations. The filmmakers emphasize that their goal was to provide as many angles on this war as possible in order to highlight the many "truths" that can exist simultaneously.
As the generations that experienced and witnessed the Vietnam War are passing away, it becomes ever more important to create platforms for sharing memories and initiating conversations between and within communities about a past still unresolved for so many. At UCI, such spaces have been carved out through the Southeast Asian Archive and the School of Humanities' Viet Stories: The Vietnamese American Oral History Project. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's visit invigorated dialogue in meaningful ways.
This special event was made possible through the partnership with Viet Stories, PBS SoCal and DKC an independent full service public relations, marketing and government affairs firm. The UCI Libraries, School of Humanities and School of Social Sciences sponsored the event.