Bob Gliner, Documentary filmmaker

April 11, 1994



THERE is a power in the word "Vietnam" that's remarkably ironic, given how unfamiliar it once was to Americans, and this evening's special on KTEH travels into the same emotionally complex territory.

Created by San Jose State sociology professor Bob Gliner, the documentary has the potential to tap the deep feelings that linger because of the traumatic history shared by Vietnam and the United States.

Gliner's hand-held camera tracks an SJS colleague, sociologist Hien Duc Do, on an introspective trip through the homeland he left in 1975. The journey is personal, yet studious as it probes the sweeping changes created by Vietnam's efforts to blend capitalism with socialism.

The visit took place in January, two weeks before the United States lifted its 18-year trade embargo, and Gliner's editing captures a mood that combines a new irony with old tensions.

Tradition vs. progress

Early in the program, for example, a Vietnamese woman declares her dislike for Americans while also conceding she's eager to do business with them. That sets the tone: A culture that's defined by tradition is nervous about losing its moral focus in the pursuit of economic progress.

Major problems already are evident. Some children work instead of going to school. The divorce rate is rising. Class divisions are disturbingly sharp. The health care system is breaking down.

Indeed, viewers may start to despair as the extent of the country's distress becomes clear.

But pay close attention. A subtler theme about the citizenry's determination and ingenuity underpins almost every segment. Hope abounds, as does courage.

Like most documentaries, this one is far from an entertainment sensation. Visually, it's bland; narratively, it's alternately intense and humdrum.

It, too, is a reflection of determination and ingenuity rather than an adequate budget.

Some common ground

For me, a couple of interviews jumped out: A Vietnamese man describes how the cases of missing soldiers haunt families in his nation as well as in the United States, and an ex-U.S. soldier tells of meeting and shaking hands with a Viet Cong leader from an area where the fighting had been hand-to-hand.

Can Vietnam be reshaped as a middle ground between East and West? It's a huge question that spawns another:

As the process unfolds, is the United States needed and wanted, or not?

It has been asked before.

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