Agent Orange: A Personal Requiem (2007)

By Kuzmarov, Jeremy | Film & History, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Agent Orange: A Personal Requiem (2007)


Kuzmarov, Jeremy, Film & History


Agent Orange: A Personal Requiem (2007).

Directed by Masako Sakata.

Distributed by Icarus Films. www.icarusfilms.com.

During the Vietnam War, the United States military sprayed approximately 80 million liters of chemical agents as part of a program called Operation Ranch Hand. The aim was to destroy enemy food crops and force villagers into government-controlled hamlets, where they could, in theory, be won over through reforms. In practice, the sprayings drove people into the arms of the revolutionary National Liberation Front, while ravaging Vietnam's environmental landscape. They left an additional long-term effect, in causing diseases such as cancer and long-term growth deficiencies. Masako Sakata's moving documentary Agent Orange: A Personal Requiem delves into the harrowing human ramifications of the U.S. chemical warfare in Vietnam through the story of her husband Greg Davis, who died of liver cancer at the age of 54, almost certainly from the effects of Agent Orange.

Davis served for three years in the U.S. military and saw heavy combat duty. He came back highly critical of U.S. policy and tried to demonstrate the gruesome character of modern warfare while serving as a photojournalist for Time magazine and other publications worldwide, in venues like Afghanistan. Described as an anarchist and free spirit, Davis returned several times to Vietnam in the 1980s and 1990s in order to become better acquainted with the country's history and culture. It was during those visits that he encountered an unusual number of genetically-mutated children bearing the effects of chemical defoliation. He subsequently began work with a group of veterans to broadcast attention to the children's plight, until his untimely death from the very same source.

Sakata lucidly chronicles these efforts and makes skillful use of archival footage to juxtapose U.S. military propaganda from the early 1960s on defoliation with the memories of Vietnamese villagers who experienced the attacks. While U.S. Army films declare the defoliants to be "harmless to man," a Vietnamese woman is quoted as stating: "The planes came in the morning, everything was covered in powder . …

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