Probably nothing says more about the difference between this essential film festival and mainstream filmmaking than the inclusion of „Lighter than Orange”, a documentary that allows North Vietnamese soldiers, now in their sixties and seventies, to talk about the horrible effect that Agent Orange has had on their lives. To my knowledge, this is the first time a film has given our „enemy” a platform – perhaps a function of it not being made by Americans often too anxious to demonize the Vietnamese even if they were opposed to the war. The film was produced and directed by Matthias Leupold with cinematography by Armin Dierolf, two very talented Germans. In contrast to Rory Kennedy’s „Last Days of Vietnam”, a film nominated for an Oscar that depicts the North Vietnamese army as a kind of barbarian assault on civilized society – a modern-day Visigoth in effect – Leupold and Dierolf give the North Vietnamese an opportunity to explain what they did and why they did it. For the most part they are simple people from farming villages who speak about the need they had to “defend their country”.
After living in tunnels or under American jets dropping napalm for the better part of a decade, they learned what the real threat was to their life and their future hopes. Even after the country was liberated, they have had to suffer the consequences of exposure to Agent Orange that has left their children and grandchildren severely disabled. Given Vietnam’s underdevelopment overall, it is infuriating to think that they have to cope with neutralizing the vast amount of dioxin that lies beneath the soil, courtesy of Dow Chemical, war criminal for the ages.