The war in Vietnam still conjures volatile emotions for those who lived during that heady time in the '60's and '70's. That's why Alec Baldwin insisted that the audience at Guild Hall Saturday night ask only questions related to the documentary, Last Days in Vietnam; host of the Hamptons International Film Festival's Summerdocs series, he anticipated that the politics surrounding America's intervention might cloud the story Rory Kennedy's new film had to tell: about the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, as the city fell to North Vietnam troops. Americans like Stuart Herrington, an intelligence officer stationed there after the Paris Accords cease fire, promised not to leave behind the hundreds of South Vietnamese who would surely be executed or sent to re-education camps. That was a promise that he and others would not be able to keep.
In attendance at the screening, Herrington lauded Kennedy's work on this important story: "She interviewed me for 7 ½ hours," he told me over cocktails at Baker House. Few had ever talked to him about this subject for more than a sound bite. The film, which relies on unique archival footage, is something of an unburdening of decades old guilt for him, although it is quite obvious that he did what he could in a difficult circumstance; defying orders, he was responsible for saving many lives. Reflecting on the events now, particularly in relation to American involvement in Afghanistan, he says, "Vietnam was a lesson observed, and then forgotten."
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