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New life for anti-war film Pentagon suppressed

Published Feb 14, 2009 10:43 AM

For 37 years no one was able to see “FTA,” a riveting documentary of the anti-war show that Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and others performed for GIs during the Vietnam War. The film was yanked from theaters one week after it opened in 1972, and all copies were destroyed. However, the original negatives were discovered a few years ago, and a reprint of the movie is now being released on DVD.

Jane Fonda
WW photo: Brenda Sandburg

Sundance will broadcast this must-see movie on Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. and on Feb. 28 at 9 a.m. Docuramafilms is also distributing it on DVD so everyone can access it through Netflix and other outlets.

“FTA,” which stands for “F**k the Army,” played at the IFC Center in Manhattan on Feb. 2. Jane Fonda appeared in person to introduce the movie, along with David Zeiger, the director of “Sir! No Sir!,” and a representative of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “It really presents that time in a way that feels present and alive and real,” Zeiger said.

Fonda explained that the FTA show was intended to counter Bob Hope’s pro-war USO program. At the time, there was massive opposition to the war within military ranks, and GIs turned out in droves to see entertainers who told the truth about their experiences. Fonda and Sutherland had just finished filming “Klute,” when Dr. Howard Levy, known for refusing to train Green Berets, asked them to be part of the show.

Witty and moving, the production featured satirical skits (in one number Donald Sutherland and Michael Alaimo call out what’s happening on the battlefield like baseball sportscasters), songs (Rita Martinson’s “Dear Soldier” is remarkable), and searing commentary (Sutherland’s closing call for people to point the gun at the war makers is stunning).

President Richard Nixon would not allow the troupe to take their show to South Vietnam as Bob Hope did, nor permit them on U.S. military bases. Instead, they performed outside bases in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan. During the two-week tour they held 21 performances for more than 60,000 service men and women.

Fonda said the military tried to keep them away by issuing releases that gave the wrong times for the show. But she said they waited until the audience turned up, and when thousands were unable to get into the packed venue, they held additional shows so everyone could see it.

“FTA” mixes excerpts from the show with interviews of GIs who talk about the government’s deception and the racism and sexism in the military. One Black GI says Black men should be exempt from the war. “The only place a Black man should fight is where he’s being oppressed,” he says. “I’m not being oppressed in Japan, Pakistan or Vietnam.”

The film also reveals what life was like for people living near U.S. bases. In the Philippines women and girls were forced into prostitution by poverty. One soldier says the prostitutes were required to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and to wear green badges in bars to indicate they were disease free.

In Japan, a man describes what happened when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Standing by a river, he says the explosion rose 2,000 feet at the epicenter and thousands of people jumped into the boiling river to escape the heat.

Zeiger was instrumental in bringing this extraordinary film back to life. While making “Sir! No Sir!,” a stirring account of GI resistance to the Vietnam War, he tracked down the people who produced “FTA.” He discovered that “FTA” director Francine Parker had just the year before found the original 16-millimeter negative in a vault where it had been edited. She had blown it up into a 35-millimeter print but did not go further, as it appeared thousands of dollars in back taxes were owed on the film.

Zeiger discovered this was not the case, however, and took “FTA” to the Sundance channel.