)Documentary film written & directed by Connie Field
Produced by Connie Field & Gregory Scharpen
A behind the scenes documentary of the creation of Jonathan Berger’s opera, with Harriet Scott Chessman’s libretto, about US Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson who saw the aftermath of the My Lai massacre and interceded to save the handful of villagers who survived the massacre.
With Rinde Eckhardt, Vân-Ánh Võ, and the Kronos quartet.
Next London screening:
Murder. Rape. Opera. The usual dramatic bedfellows. No news there in The Whistleblower of My Lai. What’s remarkable about this film is that Connie Field was prescient enough to be running her cameras in the studio as composer Jonathan Berger and these astonishingly sensitive musicians scratched their way toward the creation of a remarkable fusion of music and mutilated conscience.
The subject of the film is the process of creation. The subject of the opera is unconscionable destruction. Of life. Of human values. Of certain truths Americans held as self-evident before the revelations of the My Lai massacre.
I’m an American. I live and teach in Vietnam. Every day I interact with young adults who represent the grandchildren of the three million Vietnamese people who perished in America’s war in Vietnam. I suppress the urge to ask them, “Why don’t you hate me?” Most Gen Z Vietnamese know nothing about the conflict. Their grandparents didn’t talk about it. Their parents don’t talk about it. They have nothing to talk about.
The Vietnamese have moved on. The Americans remain tongue-tied. We are still grappling with how to talk about “it”. We are still grappling with answering questions the Vietnamese no longer ask. The Whistleblower of My Lai makes an elegant contribution toward freeing that dialogue. The film emerges as an elegy for the conscience of a nation. It speaks through voices that seek answers to their own doubts: What would you have done if you had been the pilot of Thompson’s chopper?
Rinde Eckhardt portrays Hugh Thompson, the US Army helicopter pilot who brought the massacre at My Lai to light. The opera is set at the end of Thompson’s life. He is dying of cancer while still struggling to make sense of his life. Thompson’s struggle reflects a universal dilemma. The theme will resonate the Boomer generation.
Eckhardt infuses his performance with a sense of intense moral searching. Discussing Thompsons’s decisions, Eckhardt reveals his own ambiguity about what he would have done in Thompson’s seat. The film reveals Eckhardt’s enormous sympathy for a moral individual faced with a life-changing choice.
The film, as a documentary, was riveting. I’m not sure I could sit through the opera. It’s one thing to experience such an intense emotional experience through the removed, but observing eye of the camera. It’s another thing to perceive the events through the struggle of the artists to give voice to their emotions. It would be another matter entirely to immerse yourself in the collective emotional experience of live performance. I’m happy to have watched the film @Raindance Film Festival.