Although there are quite a few outstanding documentaries pertaining to the Vietnam War, Matthias Leupold’s Lighter than Orange manages to rise above the rest. There is something about Leupold’s documentary that feels unbelievably personal. The film provides people who were and still are affected by Agent Orange with the opportunity to speak out. Leupold captures these individual stories with such a delicate intimacy that truly exposes the horrifying reality of the situation.
The men and women who share their stories in Lighter than Orange are exceptionally strong and valiant, but above all they are survivors. Yet these heroic men and women survived a long and brutal war only to be hit with even more devastation as they ultimately discovered that the dioxin-infested war fields severely altered their DNA. Four decades have passed since the end of the Vietnam War, but the detrimental effects of dioxin-based herbicides are still a problem today. Rivers and soil are still contaminated by these toxins, which will continue to spread unless other nations band together to help. Thus, Lighter than Orange deals with a subject that is relevant to Vietnam as well as the rest of the world.
Not only have these courageous soldiers dealt with changes to their DNA that have made them more susceptible to severe illnesses, but these genetic mutations have been passed on to their offspring as well. Leupold’s film portrays the children born after the damage caused by Agent Orange, and it is undeniably painful to see a woman who inherited genetic mutations that resulted in half ofher body being paralyzed. Not only is it heartbreaking to see children born with genetic mutations, but the film also depicts parents who have had multiple children die shortly after being born.
Yet the disturbing nature of Lighter than Orange is exactly what makes this documentary so powerful and historically significant. Leupold’s film makes these horrifying stories feel terrifyingly real, which is absolutely crucial when making this type of documentary. Leupold does not allow viewers to distance themselves from the film’s subject and he does not attempt to sugarcoat or dilute the perturbing veracity of the matter. The film’s poignant authenticity is what makes Lighter than Orange a must-see documentary.
Nevertheless, Lighter than Orange is more than just a documentary about a pertinent and important topic; it is also an incredibly well made and beautiful film. Leupold’s documentary is expertly edited and the cinematography is utterly breathtaking. Lighter than Orange is unlike any other documentary about the Vietnam War and should be considered mandatory viewing when learning about this subject. Moreover, Lighter than Orange is an extraordinarily genuine and enlightening work of art.
Lighter than Orange is an official selection of the New York City Independent Film Festival and will be screened at the festival on October 12-18, 2015.