Director's Statement by Christopher Upham
Return to Dakto represents a culmination of my life’s work so far. From the moment I landed at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport in 1968, my life was irreparably altered -- and enriched. No longer would I see America through the simple adolescent lens of innocence about warfare and the immense social, physical, cultural, environmental and human costs of military destruction. Endlessly probing this pivotal wartime experience, I uncovered an insatiable curiosity about Vietnamese and Asian cultures which manifested in a uncontrollable desire to express myself through language, images and film.
My first film job was researching an IMAX movie about Ancient Hawaiians (BEHOLD HAWAII), through the famed Bishop Museum and produced by MacGillivray-Freeman Films. In recreating pre-Cook Hawaiian culture, my fascination bloomed after seeing the power of film to communicate our common human objectives for sustenance, love and meaning. I was hooked.
Since then, I have photographed writers as a guest of the Vietnamese government for a cross-cultural project memorializing the poems of ordinary ground soldiers (POEMS FROM CAPTURED DOCUMENTS). I wrote a documentary for the Army about the closing of the Fort Ord, an important training base for Vietnam and WWII. I have written novels, stories, plays, poems and feature film scripts about Vietnam. I have professionally acted in plays about the effects of war – (John O’Keefe’s GLAMOUR and Shakespeare’s Lancastrian Trilogy for Trinity Shakespeare).
Vietnam is the significant cultural event of my generation - and the most culturally misunderstood. Everyone that experienced 1961-1975 has changed – people, country, culture, military, ideas. Yet, our nation experiences little peace or closure from that war – witness the angry accusations of the 2004 Presidential candidates about both candidates’ service.
It is time for us to heal - personally, socially, culturally – from this war that still resonates as trauma in the body politic. My own small effort (and obsession) was to film myself and four comrades journeying to Dak To, Vietnam where we fought. It is for every citizen’s understanding of soldiers and their families that I have dedicated whatever is needed to make this film - not for us, but for the American audience still unconsciously seeking closure for what the Vietnamese call The American War.
Another objective in taking my four Army buddies back to Asia, was also to experience Vietnam as a country and not just a war. The audiences will journey along with us - with one important distinction. Our filmic journey will also echo the world of 35 years ago, as well as probing the human consequences of going to war – and the lifetime of bearing a difficult burden.
As important as the physical journey to Vietnam, is the inner journey to heal one’s self of the inevitable trauma that war inflicts on everyone in or near harm’s way. All the power of sound and music and effects and re-creations will be used to evoke - not only the trauma of war - but the path home out of this darkness into a fuller, more authentic life.