Hearts and Minds is a film about the Vietnam War that focuses on causes and consequences. Some of the consequences are intentional, such as the bombing and killing of the enemy, which were both the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, popularly known as the Viet Cong, and the North Vietnamese Army. Other consequences were unintentional but inevitable, such as the killing of civilians, the destruction of villages, the creation of millions of refugees, the metatastizing growth of the prostitution trade. I formulated three questions I wanted every sequence in the film to address: Why did we go to Vietnam? What did we do there? What did the doing in turn do to us? These questions are never stated in the film. Nor did I expect the film to answer them. I simply wanted the film to be about those questions. For better or worse, Hearts and Minds is the result.
I won an Academy Award for Hearts and Minds in 1975 as well as France’s Prix Sadoul.
Distributed by The Criterion Collection
This series of six films explored life in a single middle western community — Muncie, Indiana, a town that had been studied in an epochal work of cultural anthropology in the 1920s. Taking the same broad categories used by Robert and Helen Lynd in the original Middletown, my colleagues and I made films about politics, religion, play, work, family, and education. A single word not only binds but flows like a rushing stream through all six films. It is a peculiarly American word that seems to apply to us as it would not if a similar study were made in Italy, China or even among our cultural progenitors in the British Isles. The word iswanting. Though my intention was to examine deeper issues of power, faith, fairness, social forces, race, gender and class in Middletown, wanting turns out never to be far from the surface in any of the films. All the principal participants want something very specific and, they hope, attainable for themselves. Some get it; some do not.
The Washington Post called The Middletown Series a “Stunning achievement — rich, rewarding, riveting.” The New York Timessaid the films are “Brimming with shrewd insights and unsettling observations.”
The Boston Globe called Middletown “A masterpiece! One of the most important films ever made of the American experience.”
Middletown was nominated for ten Emmys and won two. Individual films from the series won a Blue Ribbon at The American Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at The Sundance Film Festival.
Distributed by Icarus Films
This is a personal biography of John F. Kennedy. My son Nick Davis and I made the film as intimate as possible about a man who resisted intimacy. The theme of wanting that ran through the Middletown Series seemed also to apply to Kennedy. A woman who knew him well said she always felt “he wanted something that just wasn’t quite there.” In addition to interviews with close friends and associates who had not previously spoken about Kennedy, JACK uses film from private collectors who had never before allowed their footage to be shown publicly. The result is a portrait that helps viewers come closer to knowing a cheerfully and almost defiantly unknowable man.
JACK was nominated for two Emmys and won one.
Distributed by CBS Films
The Selling of the Pentagon
This film is an investigative report of the propaganda machine that is maintained by The Department of Defense. Roger Mudd narrates the film, which shows blatant attempts by the Pentagon to enlist support for beligerent foreign policy aims. The film follows these attempts among the public with demonstrations of warmaking exercises to CEOs and other top executives, through films shown in schools and other institutions nationwide, and through attempts to manipulate newspapers and broadcasters. Coincidentally, the film concludes with a report of a firepower demonstration at a junior high school that just happened to have the future filmmaker Michael Moore as a student.
The Selling of the Pentagon won Emmy, Peabody, George Polk, Writers Guild, Ohio State, and Saturday Review Awards.
Distributed by CBS Films