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PBS Vietnam War documentary aims to start national conversation


The Vietnam War is considered by some to be the most divisive war in America since the Civil War.

It took ten years for filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to document the Vietnam War, which Novick said remains unfinished business in American history.

It is the war, she said, that Americans have still found it hard to discuss.

On Sunday, the 18-hour, 10-part series will premiere on PBS with a simultaneous release on DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 19 with the goal of helping Americans learn about, remember and discuss what happened.

"The Vietnam War," tells the story of the epic war from the perspective of those who witnessed it including American soldiers for and against the war, Vietnamese fighters and Vietnamese civilians from both sides of the conflict.

The film was recently screened in the metro-area.  In July, Georgia Public Broadcasting hosted a viewing in Johns Creek that featured clips from the documentary.   The screening took place just a few months after the 250-ft replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, "The Wall That Heals," made a stop in North Fulton. The wall returns to Georgia for a stop in Metter from October 19-22.

"The Vietnam War" part of a trilogy of documentaries that explores American wars ("The Civil War" and "The War" which featured WWII) includes rare digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the world as well as more famous photographs from the era.

“The Vietnam War was a decade of agony that took the lives of more than 58,000 Americans,” Burns said in a statement. “Not since the Civil War have we as a country been so torn apart. There wasn’t an American alive then who wasn’t affected in some way — from those who fought and sacrificed in the war, to families of service members and POWs, to those who protested the war in open conflict with their government and fellow citizens. More than 40 years after it ended, we can’t forget Vietnam, and we are still arguing about why it went wrong, who was to blame and whether it was all worth it.”

The crew traveled around the country and to Vietnam for interviews. They were surprised, said Novick, to learn that the war was as painful and unresolved for the Vietnamese as it is for Americans.

To help initiate a national conversation about this painful era in history, there is also a public engagement program and an interactive website where individuals are invited to share their stories, images, memories and more from the war.

Already, the site features pictures from the war, letters written by soldiers and memories from a range of citizens who remember what happened and the impact of the war on their lives and the country.

"The Vietnam War" airs locally on GPB at 8 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 17. For more information visit PBS.org .


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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.