Filmmaker David Zeiger’s Sir! No Sir!, which opens today at the Belcourt, is a highly-charged, insightful and troubling work. There won’t be many documentaries released anytime soon delving into more explosive territory than this examination of the GI antiwar movement during the Vietnam conflict. But despite the contentions of some detractors, Zeiger’s film isn’t nearly as predictable as some might anticipate.
Sir! No Sir! won the documentary audience award at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and was nominated for a Spirit award. It also triggered some harsh and vicious commentary, both in print and online, regarding its content. Some critics hailed Zeiger for his courage and others attacked him for selective memory and deceptive presentation, along with the fact he isn’t a veteran. There’s no question individual audience reaction and perception will be influenced by political persuasion, but everyone should still view the film closely and carefully.
One key figure is decorated Green Beret Donald Duncan, who left the military in 1966 after a year in Vietnam because he felt what he was seeing was fundamentally wrong. Another is Louis Font, the first West Point graduate in history to refuse war service because he considered Vietnam a war of aggression. Sociologist Jerry Lembcke disputes the claim antiwar protesters abused and disrespected Vietnam veterans, another segment that’s drawn considerable fire.
Zeiger’s production explores instances of active soldiers signing a New York Times antiwar ad, incidents of intentional officer shootings, specific hearings and investigations, and statistics on desertions. He also probes the underground antiwar movement that emerged on off-base coffeehouses and the rise of underground newspapers during that era.
Zeiger never mentions the Iraq war or Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, two more things repeatedly cited by those who either disagree with his contentions or denounce this film as propaganda. Especially irritating to these individuals is the coverage given to the FTA show, an anti-Bob Hope tour that starred Jane Fonda. Fonda’s son Troy Garity narrates the film, which has caused some individuals to boycott it and others to completely dismiss its viewpoints.
Still, David Zeiger feels that the true story of the GI antiwar movement during the Vietnam era has never been told, and instead has been replaced by revisionist accounts or inaccurate, politicized rhetoric. Sir! No Sir! reflects that perspective, and is anything but a timid, detached work.
Warren Duzak of Veterans for Peace will introduce tonight’s 7:20 screening.