UNITED NATIONS ASSOCIATION FILM FESTIVAL
October 25 at 7:15pm (Session 18)
Stanford University, Anderson Collection, 314 Lomita Drive
The Whistleblower of My Lai is a unique fusion of opera and documentary that blends the emotional crystallization of a dramatized human story with the concreteness of real life images. It tells a story that captures both the best and worst of humanity through the examination of one incident in one man’s life: Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson who was considered a traitor because of his discovery and exposure of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
The opera is created by composer Jonathan Berger and librettist Harriet Chessman, and performed by the Kronos Quartet, tenor Rinde Eckert and master Vietnamese musician, Vân-Ánh Võ. The richly evocative score by Berger alternates between bursts of dense, frenzied activity and slow, hymn-like harmonies of aching sweetness.The music underscores the drama with unerring clarity. The combined effect is hauntingly beautiful.
The story portrays Thompson in his final days, dying of cancer and desperately trying to make some sense of the events of 40 years earlier. Tenor Rinde Eckert makes Thompson a vivid and poignant character. Each episode is itself neatly framed, with Thompson’s present-day reminiscences fading into the events of 1968. In between are taped snippets of interrogation, in which Thompson’s shameful treatment at the hands of congressional investigators is transformed into a TV game show.
The creators and performers innermost thoughts on the personal meaning of the Vietnam War and the actions of Hugh Thompson are interwoven with the performance. The real horror of the massacre of over 500 Vietnamese civilians by American troops explodes on the screen capturing an historical moment which traumatized American society and lead to questioning the very morality of its military.
The Whistleblower of My Lai premiered in Vietnam for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the massacre where it was seen by one of Vietnam’s foremost film directors Đặng Nhật Minh:
“I have watched a lot of films about the Vietnam War. For the first time I was exposed to a documentary combined with the power of opera, of music...This is a very daring and innovative film. Light shines even in the darkest hour. We do not despair because there is still the light of human conscience. Specifically in this film, Thompson is that light of humanity.”