Documentary filmmaker Le Lam, 85, spent a year in Quang Tri in 1972 making Nam 1972 Lich Su (The Historic 1972), which depicted the atrocities of war. The hardships and sacrifices of 1972 had made the final reunification of the country in 1975 possible, he told Viet Nam News.
Inner Sanctum: Can you describe your life and work in Quang Tri Province at the time?
I was assigned to lead a filming crew to Quang Tri to make film about the liberation force's battle in the central province. I stayed there for nearly a year. At first, the team had six to seven groups, and each had two cameramen, but this number was later increased to 30.
During the filming, our crew suffered a great loss, as four cameramen died and four others were injured. It was the highest toll among any film crew in Viet Nam's Army Cinema.
However, in November 1972, I was told to leave the Quang Tri battlefield and make a film about the overall military activities in 1972.
Inner Sanctum: What changes did you make in the film vis-a-vis the overall war of 1972, instead of only focusing on the Quang Tri battlefield?
The third attack on Quang Tri was a half-baked result of the victories in the two previous attacks. Therefore, making a film about the Quang Tri battlefield would have seemed like an unfinished project. We decided to expand the filming area to two regions in the north and south and finished at our victory over the US air blitz on capital Ha Noi and other places in North Viet Nam at the end of 1972 which led to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, or the agreement that ended the American presence in Viet Nam in 1973.
The 1972 campaign was different from the operations of Tet Mau Than in the spring of 1968 and the 1975 Spring Campaign because of the length of time it lasted. The two other campaigns took place on the battlefields during a shorter period of time, which ranged from one to two months. Meanwhile, the 1972 campaign lasted a year and covered areas from the South to the North, as well as various big battles. If I had only filmed in the Quang Tri battlefield, it would not have helped explain the bigger picture of the war.
Inner Sanctum: What were the difficulties you encountered during filming?
We captured the reality of the war on film, but I wanted to unveil the bigger picture. I also wanted to expose US President Richard Nixon's true ambition behind the war. I read many newspapers and books to reach an understanding about why Nixon wanted to shift the war to his allies and leave the war 'in honour'. However, we all know that he did not leave without deploying strategic bombers B-52s to destroy Ha Noi towards the end of 1972.
About Le Lam
Le Lam was a colonel and film director employed by the People's Army Cinema. He shot a lot of war documentaries, such as Nguoi Ham Rong (Ham Rong People) and Quanh Dia Nguc Con Tien (Around the Con Tien Hell), which were awarded the Viet Nam Film Festival's Golden Lotus award. Movies, such as Con Co Anh Hung (The Heroic Con Co) and Chang Duong Toi Dien Bien (Way to Dien Bien) were awarded the Silver Lotus Award, while Nam 1972 Lich Su (The Historic 1972) was falicitated at the Viet Nam Film Festival.
Officially known as Operation Linebacker II, the notorious Christmas bombings occurred 42 years ago when President Nixon decided to use the flying fortresses B-52s to drop the highest number of bombs since the end of World War II on Ha Noi, Hai Phong and other parts of northern Viet Nam.
I fortunately narrowly escaped death twice during US bombings in the same year, the first time I was in Quang Tri. Bombs were dropped on our way to the battlefield. Luckily, there was a hole on the right side of the road and I hid there. A bomb was dropped about 100 metres away from my hiding place. Therefore, I was not injured, but sustained a buzzing in my ears and was covered with dust.
The second time I escaped death was when bombs were dropped near my house on Kham Thien Street during the 1972 Christmas air raid against Ha Noi.
I was blessed to have survived the bombings, but my fellow cameramen were not. I could not return without having made a film. Looking into the eyes of the cameramen, who had died while filming the scene, I was motivated to work harder to make the documentary. I was not afraid of dying on the battlefield. I was more afraid of dying without having completed the film.
After spending some time contemplating how to impart more depth to the story, I decided not to limit myself to the battlefield and explore other aspects of the war. I spent days and nights exploring tens of thousands of metres of Vietnamese and foreign films to research the fighting strategies from both sides.
Inner Sanctum: What was the outcome of the film?
The documentary was completed in 1975. It managed to provide a delayed perspective of the crucial year of 1972 in terms of the overall results of the bigger war.
The journey was also hard for me personally, but the outcome proved that my efforts had not gone waste. The film was printed in 100 copies, as well as screened nationwide. In addition, many foreign filmmakers also reproduced parts of the film. — VNS