This blog entry was posted by Susi Walsh
In 1981, America was still awakening to some of the horrors of the war in Vietnam. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) had not yet been widely acknowledged, much less understood. The alarmingly high incidence of PTSD among Vietnam veterans was largely unknown by the general public, unacknowledged by the government, and denied by many others. When Frank: A Vietnam Veteran was broadcast nationally in 1981, it became the first widely seen non-fiction film that unblinkingly explored how the war and ensuing PTSD had devastated a life. While widely applauded when broadcast on PBS, Frank at the same time caused a loud and angry protest – some PBS stations decided it unfairly portrayed the contributions of those who fought, and refused to broadcast it. Others felt differently, that the film was a plea for understanding and help for veterans like Frank.
In the film, Frank relives with rare candor and intimacy the full and raw horror of his year in Vietnam; and then, with surprising vulnerability, reveals his experience of a 10 year battle to live with what he had done, what he had experienced, and what he saw during the war.
Why screen it in 2008? More than 25 years has passed, and yet the story has relevance to a new generation of returning soldiers. In 2004, the first ever war-time study of the mental health of combat troops appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. That study showed that almost 2 out of every 10 US troops who faced combat in Iraq might suffer serious symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. By 2006, in a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, 35% of Iraq war veterans were reported to have accessed mental health care services during their first year home. At the fifth year anniversary of the Iraq war, war and recovery should once again be at the top of our concerns as budgets (the funding of mental health services for veterans) and lives are on the line.
In 1980, I had the good fortune to be hired to work on the post-production of Frank: A Vietnam Veteran and its subsequent release (as well as the outreach efforts that accompanied its broadcast). When it was broadcast nationally on public television as a Veterans Day special in 1981, PBS stations around the country staffed their phone banks ( usually used for pledge drives) with combat veterans and counselors from Vet Centers. At the completion of the broadcast, viewers (in particular veterans and their families) who wanted to talk or to get help were invited to call in. Over 9,000 calls from veterans and their families were logged that night seeking and finding help. The filmmaker- Fred Simon, his co-producer -Vince Canzoneri, the videographer – Mark Abbate along with Executive Producer Peter McGee and I were in the studio at WGBH the night of the broadcast to help with the phone in. In that moment when the broadcast was complete and the phones all started ringing, I found an inspiration that has lasted me twenty-seven years. That experience showed me the power and potential of film and television to make a real contribution to effect positive social change.
This will be the first public screening of this film in 20 years. I hope that you’ll be able to join us for this event (which will be a benefit for Women in Film and Video New England). Tickets are available at the box office or through the Women in Film and Video website.
FRANK: A VIETNAM VETERAN will be screened :
March 29, 2008 at 12 noon
The Brattle Theater, Cambridge, MA
This is a fundraising event for Women and Film New Engalnd – tickets will be $15 and can be purchased online at www.brattlefilm.org
Here are some reviews of the film from its broadcast:
“…as Frank gropes, with astonishing candor, to explain what happened to him, the effect is undeniably powerful.”- John J. O’Connor THE NEW YORK TIMES (November 11, 1981)
Named by Marvin Kitman in Newsday as one of the Ten Best Shows on television in 1981, he wrote
“…a searing and devastating commentary about the insanity of war and what it does to man and the survivors”.
“….probably the best program PBS will broadcast this year. It is one of those rare efforts awesome both in its integrity and in its success. ” Karl Vick, THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES November 11, 1981
For more information about the film, please contact the filmmaker Fred Simon at FSimon@documentaries.org
To view an excerpt from the film:
Frank: A Vietnam Veteran was a production of WGBH Boston and Fred Simon Productions